Redirecting the technological trajectory towards sustainability and human centricity
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the most comprehensive effort to address the existential threats that mankind faces, to date. They consist of 17 broad goals with 169 tangible targets, covering practically every sustainability issue.
The SDGs were unanimously adopted by member countries at the United Nations Summit in 2015. However, outlining the goals is only the first step. A viable plan to move forward, supported by enablers for it, needs to be in place as well. A bold, broad initiative that does precisely this is the Japan government’s Society 5.0 (aka Super-Smart Society).
The Society 5.0 initiative proposes pragmatic enablers, based on some of the most exciting technologies that are emerging, to create the societal transformations that are required. Besides envisioning a future in which we create a more harmonious co-existence with our environment, Society 5.0 also addresses issues such as ageing population and social inequality, which were not prioritized in the four technological revolutions which preceded it.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Society 5.0 is that it does not aim to compromise on economic goals. In past years, pushbacks against decarbonization, conservation or to implement more sustainable technologies have often been on the pretext that they will impinge on economic livelihoods. This is especially pertinent today, as ASEAN countries, which are mostly in developing status still, slowly emerge from the economic devastation created by COVID-19.
We believe that Society 5.0 has the potential to succeed because the benefits of sustainability can be felt at an individual level. With Society 5.0, the constituents of any society will see the value in evolving. It entails the creation of new values and services of benefit to citizens on a continuous basis. Lives will be made progressively comfortable; businesses will be greater facilitated; whole societies will be upgraded; and no individual will be left behind. That’s the promise of Society 5.0.
Japan presents a very useful case study on how profoundly effective government-industry collaboration can be in making the Society 5.0 vision come to fruition. Japan’s government has unequivocally led from the top and engaged the industry proactively.
Industry-government committees were established for five key areas: next-generation mobility/smart city; smart public services; next-generation infrastructure; financial technology/cashless society; and next-generation healthcare. These committees are made up of both government officials as well as industry partners.
The committees discuss visions and strategies for deploying digital and formulating the policies as well as putting in place the supportive structures on human resources, regulatory reform, open data, cybersecurity, and others.
NEC’s Society 5.0 Initiatives in APAC region
Given the real-world practicality of the Society 5.0 Vision in terms of how to accomplish the SDGs, NEC Asia Pacific has aligned our solution propositions very closely with Japan’s industry-government committees – digital government; digital mobility; digital finance; digital healthcare; and sustainability.
NEC has robust solutions in each of the above areas that are well past proof of concept stage – they are being implemented to solve real world issues across the APAC region and beyond. Most importantly, services are being made human-centric, with another preeminent guiding aspiration as well, “to leave no one behind.”
How have we translated our aspirations into real-word applications?
The 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta utilized NEC’s facial recognition and behaviour detection analytics to give spectators peace of mind to enjoy the game. Facial recognition technologies were also employed at Thailand’s Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun Hospital, accelerating registrations for emergency cases which might previously been delayed by paper-based admin.
Over in the Philippines, biometrics solutions were implemented to facilitate Filipino seafarers’ identification, for shore leaves, cross border transfers, and repatriations, by doing away with stringent visa requirements. Elsewhere in the Philippines, biometric solutions implemented nationwide are facilitating more secure e-Know Your Customer (accelerating customer onboarding), faster, card-less transactions, and lower risks of card skimming. Across the seas, at another major bank in Singapore, employees can remotely and securely access their desktops via face authentication and virtual server platform.
Notably, beyond making services more human-centric, NEC technologies are also upping the ante in terms of accuracy and efficiency. Case-in-point – NEC’s biometrics technologies have been certified as the most accurate in the world – for both iris and face recognition.
Solutions for global sustainability challenges
Extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions. The magnitude of the problems such as natural disasters, hunger and burgeoning cities are growing and require extraordinary innovation and collaboration to solve.
Our technologies have been deployed to address these issues, with tangible outcomes across continents. We present a few case studies here:
Smart Farming Management: Reducing Cost & Friendly to the Environment
Contributions to SDG:
Two kinds of services are provided under CropScope: the utilization of sensors and satellite photographs to visualize the farm environment, such as the growth and moisture status of crops, and a service that provides farming advice, using AI. This platform enables crop growers, regardless of experience and skill level, to stabilize their harvests and reduce cultivation costs, while implementing environmentally friendly farming.
NEC has started a collaboration with food manufacturing company Kagome Co. Ltd, to improve tomato harvesting. Various experiments have been done around the world. One experiment conducted in Portugal achieved a yield of 127 tons per hectare – compared with average Portuguese grower, about 1.3 times the yield yet using about 20% less nitrogen fertilizer.
Satellite Technologies: Preventing Disasters from Space
Contributions to SDG:
As natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and others become more and more severe each year, NEC is experimenting with technologies that can help minimize the damage they cause. NEC’s ASNARO-2 satellite, launched in 2018, uses synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technologies to image the earth.
The technology generates images by beaming microwaves from a satellite and picking up the waves that bounce back from objects on the ground. This technique can detect movements in the earth’s crust to within a few centimeters, potentially alerting authorities of an impending volcanic eruption or earthquake.
Transportation Systems: Enabling Smart, Safe, Seamless and Secure Travel
Contributions to SDG:
Around the ASEAN region, cities are growing at an incredible rate, straining the limits of infrastructure. Consider the major cities such as Jakarta, Manila and Bangkok with more than 10 million population. As a result, traffic jams in many cities are very common.
However, a slew of NEC’s technologies, in the areas of biometrics, data analytics, enhanced video technologies, and the Internet of Things are making transportation safer and more manageable. One example is the analysis of transit data across bus and train operators can yield valuable insights to help finetune scheduling to reduce overcrowding of roads as well as within buses or train carriages.