The world of work in Society 5.0

In Society 5.0, the focus is on the integration of the human into the workplace, using tech as a tool to support work activities.
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We are living in a world where technology is being enhanced daily and it is challenging to keep up with all the new innovations. Technology is immersed into our lives and philosophers often speculate on the role of technology as an extension of life.

In this era of challenges and opportunities, Japan has introduced a new concept, Society 5.0, which refers to a society that, “through the high degree of merging between cyberspace and physical space, will be able to balance economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by providing goods and services that granularly address manifold latent needs regardless of location, age, sex or language”.

One of the key areas where technology is changing the way things are done is within the world of work, which leads to the questions: “How will the world of work change as a result of the technological enhancements?” and “How will we stay relevant in this world?”

Education leaders argue that it depends on the domain – however, does it really depend on the field, or are we already there where we should incorporate more technology into our education systems in all domains?

Some fields are clearly in need of more use of technology. For example, engineers are involved in the world of design and creation, and rely on technology to assist in their plans.

But what about environments that traditionally did not make use of technology; for example, how important is it that my psychologist should be computer literate? Naturally, it might be argued that psychologists only work with humans – but they are also business owners where technology supports their activities through, for example, the use of financial and booking systems.

Society 5.0 is more than using technology; it is about enhancing humankind by means of technology.

It is true to say they may get people to support these activities (which might create work opportunities), but with the fast-growing problems associated with technology fatigue, it is imperative that the psychologist should understand the world of technology and the dangers involved in the use of technology, in order to serve patients better.

Surely there are low-skilled positions that will require limited technology knowledge, but if we want to be innovative and use the opportunities offered by new developments in the world, it will be necessary to be more knowledgeable on the potential of the use of technology.

So now the question is, should we all be programmers? Understand how to develop systems? Luckily, the answer is no, it is more important to understand the new innovations and the potential of these innovations; for example, the potential use of big data, artificial intelligence and social media.

In Society 5.0, the focus is on the human and the integration of the human into the workplace, using technology as an extension and a tool to support work activities. But Society 5.0 is more than using technology; it is about enhancing humankind by means of technology.

This is a very strong statement since there are also dangers in the use of technology – if we just think about automation, although it supported the economic advancement of production lines, it did cause redundancy of the workforce in selected workplaces. If we think about farming where less unskilled workers are necessary due to automation, we might create a new challenge with regard to unemployment.

On a positive side, we are now often using technology to enhance our quality of live, where many employees work from home and do not need to travel on a daily basis between the workplace and home, contributing to a higher quality of life.

Furthermore, if we think of the services that are now possible without travel needs – doctors seeing patients that do not have access to medical services, drones delivering medication in remote areas, and groceries being ordered online and delivered to COVID-19 patients during the epidemic − we can surely argue that technology does enhance aspects of modern living.

For Society 5.0 to thrive as a society, it is necessary for technology to be immersed, non-evasive, service-oriented with low complexity. With regards to being immersed, the idea is that it should be part of our daily life, taking over complex tasks without making it more difficult to continue with our activities.

As an example, pacemakers are used for many years for regulation of the patient’s heartbeat – it is so immersed in the patient’s life that it becomes an extension of themselves as a human being, without thinking about the device except during check-ups or replacement of the device.

Technology should furthermore be non-invasive; it should not make life more complex. Thirdly, being service-oriented means that technology should support tasks in the workplace and make it easier to do daily tasks.

Lastly, low complexity is a high priority, so that workers can use it to be more productive and not struggle with the tools to such an extent that more time is used on understanding the technology than using it.

In Society 5.0, the key from the characteristics mentioned above is probably that it should be service-oriented. People will not start to use technology’s more enhanced functionality if they don’t see ‘what is in it for me’.

The use of technology should be easy, accessible and not too expensive to make it feasible to be used by a new society, in service of the society.

So to return to the workplace – we are now in the reality where life-long learning is no longer a concept that is discussed only, it is a reality that if you as a worker in the workplace do not spend time keeping abreast of new technologies and tools, you may soon not be relevant in the workplace and competitors will be in a better position.

Alta van der Merwe

Deputy dean, teaching and learning within the EBIT Faculty at the University of Pretoria.

Professor Alta van der Merwe is deputy dean, teaching and learning within the EBIT Faculty at the University of Pretoria.

Van der Merwe focuses on the design of socio-technical solutions with research activities in enterprise architecture, data science and different theories supporting the successful use of technology in the organisation.

Her research related to her position focuses on student success and especially using technology to enhance throughput.

She is the past president of SAICSIT and on an international level, was involved in the proposal and acceptance of the IEEE SMC Enterprise Engineering and Enterprise Architecture Technical Committee. In 2018, she was appointed as the IFIP 8 vice-chair.

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