‘Let’s work towards creating a future where humans and machines coexist’

Posted on June 08, 2023

Technological advancements such as artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the world as we know it, but by harnessing the power of design science research, we can create a future where technology enables humans to flourish rather than be a source of further division.

This was discussed at the recent 18th International Conference on Design Science Research in Information Systems and Technology (DESRIST 2023) hosted at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Future Africa Institute under the theme ‘Society 5.0’.

Design science research is an approach that seeks to advance human knowledge by tackling some of the world’s most pressing challenges – such as global warming and inadequate healthcare – through innovative technology that designs, tests and implements solutions.

Society 5.0 refers to a human-centred society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by way of a system that integrates cyberspace and physical space. Society 5.0 was first proposed in the Fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan as a future society that Japan (and now other parts of the world) should aspire to. It follows the hunting society (Society 1.0), agricultural society (Society 2.0), industrial society (Society 3.0) and information society (Society 4.0).

“We live in an economy in which knowledge and information are often used without being shared, whereas the vision of Society 5.0 is that the Internet of Things will connect all people, and a much higher portion of data, information and knowledge will be shared,” said UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe.

“Society 5.0 aims to overcome social disparities regarding access to goods – for example, by using drones for distribution in rural areas. People will not be overwhelmed by information, as technology will be used to analyse large datasets and other information, and recommendations will be made based on findings.”

Prof Kupe said one of the primary ways that Society 5.0 can bridge the digital divide is by facilitating affordable access to high-speed internet and digital devices. Governments and private sector stakeholders, he added, can collaborate to expand broadband infrastructure, lower data costs, and give remote and underserved communities access to digital resources. In doing so, they will unlock countless opportunities for education, entrepreneurship and civic engagement.

However, he said, despite the numerous advantages of incorporating design science research into developing advanced technologies, humans must also acknowledge and address potential challenges.

“One such challenge is the risk of exacerbating existing inequalities,” Prof Kupe said. “As advanced technologies become more prevalent, there is a danger that those who lack access to digital resources or the skills required to use them will be left behind. Another concern is the impact of automation on employment. As AI, robotics and other advanced technologies become more sophisticated, they can potentially displace human labour in various industries.”

He advised investing in digital infrastructure, promoting digital literacy among all segments of society, integrating human-centred design principles in technology development and preparing the workforce for the transition.

During the conference, delegates encouraged the use of research papers, panels and workshops to address the challenges faced by society, business ecosystems, organisations, workgroups and individuals.

“DESRIST 2023 challenged the design science research community to think about research from a humanitarian perspective,” said Prof Alta van der Merwe, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology.

Potential benefits of Society 5.0

In the realm of agriculture, Society 5.0 can empower small-scale farmers by integrating precision agriculture technologies. Using drones, sensors and satellite imagery can provide farmers with real-time data on crop health, soil conditions and weather patterns, enabling them to optimise their farming practices and increase yields.

Society 5.0 can also revolutionise healthcare delivery by leveraging telemedicine and AI-driven diagnostics. Telemedicine enables patients to consult with medical professionals remotely, reducing the need for travel and ensuring timely care. AI-driven diagnostics can analyse medical images and patient data, helping clinicians to make more accurate and timely decisions.

Education is another area where Society 5.0 can make a significant impact. Digital learning platforms, combined with AI-powered adaptive learning systems, can provide personalised learning experiences for students, ensuring that they receive the support they need to succeed.

Society 5.0 can create new economic opportunities by fostering innovation and entrepreneurship. By establishing technology hubs, innovation centres and incubators, aspiring entrepreneurs can be furnished with the resources, mentorship and funding they need to bring their ideas to life. New jobs that drive economic development can be created.

“Together, let us work towards creating a more equitable, prosperous and sustainable future for all, where humans and machines coexist and thrive in harmony,” Prof Kupe said.


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