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Society 5.0: This is why it absolutely does matter

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 15 Oct 2021
From left: Professors Aurona Gerber, Hanlie Smuts and Alta van der Merwe.
From left: Professors Aurona Gerber, Hanlie Smuts and Alta van der Merwe.

Society 5.0 is a human-centred approach to the technological future. This is according to three University of Pretoria professors − Alta van der Merwe, Hanlie Smuts and Aurona Gerber – who are part of a research group that focuses on enhancing an understanding of the Society 5.0 concept.

They caution that technology should not be the point of friction between product and people, saying designers and software developers need to become more human-oriented.

So, what does the ICT industry need to know about Society 5.0 and how will it shape our future approach to technology?

The professors present the following argument:

Society 5.0 is a concept introduced in Japan in the Fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan and follows the hunting society (Society 1.0), agricultural society (Society 2.0), industrial society (Society 3.0) and information society (Society 4.0).

Society 5.0 is often associated with Industry 4.0 and although there is a relationship, they do not address the same key concerns. In Industry 4.0, the generation of knowledge and intelligence is achieved primarily by humans with the support of technology; in Society 5.0, the generation of knowledge and intelligence will come from machines through artificial intelligence at the service of people.

One can see Society 5.0 as a human-centred Industry 4.0 environment. The Cabinet Office of Japan, where the Society 5.0 concept originated, defines Society 5.0 as: “A human-centred society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace and physical space.”

So why does it matter? Why should we take cognisance of the concept of Society 5.0?

Its main aim is to bring human concerns back into how we think about technologically-advanced environments, as well as establish better human-machine interfaces.

The better we get at the seamless integration of human and machine, the better we are able to use all means possible towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where we focus more on humans in a fast-paced technology-growing economy.

The SDGs, with an economic and social development agenda as it pertains to sustainability, ultimately impacts all countries, organisations, teams and individuals. In order to consider this impact holistically, we can model the notion of a Society 5.0 shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The key concepts model of Society 5.0
Figure 1: The key concepts model of Society 5.0

Seven key concepts are incorporated into the model of Society 5.0, where data and connectivity are regarded as the foundation for Society 5.0. On the left side in Figure 1 is the socio-technical considerations, and on the right, the impact. Overarching is the concept of Society 5.0, where the focus is on the humanising of technology.


There are two fundamental technologies mentioned in the foundations because we consider these as the basis of most of the technology breakthroughs that underpin Society 5.0 today.

The first is the availability of data, and the second is connectivity that makes this collected data available to whomever or whatever needs it.

Data is being generated by mostly all of our activities through our connected devices, be it your computer, smartphone or smart watch, or even your smart home with all of its sensors in smart appliances, such as a smart television, washing machine or smart fridge, even a smart security system, all connected to the internet.

While there are many discussions and perspectives about our participation in this new mode of operating, we participate in this new reality both as individuals and as part of a community or organisation.

The ethical perspectives, as well as how these technologies are transforming and disrupting society, are beyond the scope of this discussion; however, these fundamental technologies form the basis of Industry 4.0, and ultimately, Society 5.0.


Many technologies are enabled by the growth in the foundational technologies; namely, the availability of data and the mechanisms that allow for the access to this data via connectivity.

Artificial intelligence (AI) encapsulates in essence a number of intelligent algorithms that exploit available data to detect patterns and insights into the behaviour of people, sensors and devices that are not detectable by the stakeholders that generated the data.

Using data and computational intelligence, AI is able to detect patterns that are not visible to humans, and thus, learn from data, and predict outcomes or behaviours.

AI provides many advantages, including the early detection of disease, business opportunities given customer preferences and many more. The internet of things (IOT) describes this network of connected devices and sensors that creates the opportunities for intelligent insights and management of all participants, be they sensors, devices or people through smart devices.

Data science is the umbrella term that describes the science of the management and use of data, and data science is the fundamental science (discipline) that enables the use of data with all its challenges and opportunities that enable all the opportunities this new digitised world provides.

Industry 4.0 is a collective term that describes the combination of all these technologies and their integration into society.


The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, is marked by a fast-paced change in technologies that are altering the way we socialise, live, work and play.

The term Industry 4.0 was formalised in 2011 in Germany at the Hannover Messe and was initially associated with the optimisation of the manufacturing industry through smart technologies, such as IOT, internet of services, sensors and artificial intelligence.

However, disruptive technologies emerging from Industry 4.0 now present new ways in which organisations can conduct business and innovate value chains based on digitalisation opportunities.

Hence, the impact of Industry 4.0 is associated with socio-technical aspects, as organisations have to navigate technology choices and application, as well as manage non-digital outcomes due to work automation and skills required to operate in an advanced technological environment.

In this context, the interrelatedness of social and technical aspects of an organisation or society as a whole must therefore be considered. Industry 4.0 enables joint optimisation, with a shared emphasis on achievement of both excellence in technical performance and quality in people's work lives.

Society domains

Society 5.0 influences different domains, including for example, education, health and medicine. In each domain, the impact will be different and the use of technology would create opportunities for the improvement of livelihood.

Dr Nakamura Michiharu, senior advisor to the Japan Science and Technology Agency, linked the vision of Society 5.0 with the UN’s SDGs.

For example, SDG 4 focuses on education, with the emphasis on using technologies such as e-learning systems to make education affordable and available to everyone.

In 2020, the use of e-learning systems became highly pertinent during the worldwide lockdown periods when teachers and students had to adapt to remote teaching and learning. The question that arises now is how technology can be used to further assist education. What will the future of education be in Society 5.0?

Similarly, the domain of health can benefit from the use of technologies, with smart devices used to capture data and feed it to appropriate support structures to improve and monitor health. The potential of the use of lifestyle management and long-term monitoring is now only starting to show the possible benefits to a population that is growing and reaching a more mature age.

Impact of Society 5.0

Society 5.0, with all its different aspects, not only presents a technical challenge, but also significantly changes the structures and business processes of organisations. It requires leaders in a company to consider a new level of socio-technical interaction and planning.

Autonomous and self-organised resources, included in value chains combined with data science, enable the opportunity to offer smart products and services, packaged for the individual consumer.

Data-driven decision-making now consists of more than just descriptive or diagnostic analyses. It also enables organisations to derive insight from predictive models, combining the knowledge in people and the knowledge in machines for evidence-based outcomes.

Digital transformation processes must therefore not only take cognisance of new and agile business model opportunities, but also consider the future of work and its impact on fundamental skills.

These skills now include critical thinking and problem-solving to help employees quickly identify changes in their environment and adapt response strategies targeted at achieving the desired outcomes.

Humanising technology

Technology should not be the point of friction between product and people. Designers and software developers need to become more human-oriented to help users to streamline, simplify, evaluate and filter, and to better understand human needs, emotions and human behaviour.

Digitalisation is integrated into everyday activities such as banking, shopping, news, social media, chatbot service agents and smart home applications.

Conversational interfaces, augmented reality and virtual reality allow us to immerse ourselves in a computer-simulated reality applied in gamification, learning and education. Technologies will evolve, but the human in this context is the constant, using technology as a means.

Society 5.0 is a human-centred approach to the future societies that follow previous societies. Technology will be used to enhance the way we live, while it is interwoven into everything we do and engage in.

Technology needs to become part of our life without interfering with our quality of life. A human-centred approach means we need to rethink the way we design technologies, with the focus on human support, use and benefit.

Nobody knows with certainty what new technologies will emerge, what new industries will materialise and what skills will be in high demand. What we do know is that the future will be radically different from the work environment of today, and the pace of change will be faster than anyone expects − Society 5.0 matters!

The professors:

* Prof Alta van der Merwe, deputy dean: teaching and learning, EBIT faculty, University of Pretoria

* Prof Hanlie Smuts, associate professor, Department of Informatics, University of Pretoria

* Prof Aurona Gerber, associate professor, Department of Informatics, University of Pretoria