The 4th Industrial Revolution: Is Japan Ready?

This past week one of Japan’s Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet members, Minister Hiroshige Seko, came to the United States to talk about Innovation & Future Vision. A politician for more than 20 years, Seko-san is the Minister of METI: Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry. In my opinion, as someone who has an intimate interest in Japan-US relations, Minister Seko had a respectable wit and humble presence that made him very interesting to listen to.


Mr. Hiroshige Seko, Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, speaking to an audience hosted by the Japan Society of Northern California on July 31st, 2018.

What impressed me the most was Seko-san’s passion and sincerity about Japan’s place in the world now and in the future. He strongly believes that Japan has a responsibility in fostering innovation not only within its own borders but around the world. But there are indeed challenges. Speaking in English, Seko-san talked how there are 3 gaps that need to be addressed in order for the 4th industrial revolution to really come to fruition.

But what is the 4th industrial revolution?

The original revolution was about using water and steam power to fuel mass production. This evolved into the electric power which became the 2nd industrial revolution. The third revolution was catalyzed by electronics and IT — such as robotics — that has automated production more than ever before. I believe this next revolution will likely not change how we do things but how we view ourselves in the process. The technology that we know and have become so use to will just evolve to the point that digital and physical will become even more connected, embedded. There are obviously significant opportunities that may come with this 4th revolution but there are also ethical and moral challenges that have to be addressed.
So what are these 3 gaps that Seko-san talked about in unleashing this 4th industrial revolution?
Seko-san talked about the following:

  1. Overcoming gaps between regulation and reality.
  2. Overcoming gaps between our perception of technology and reality.
  3. Overcoming gaps between international order and reality.

Of the these 3 items that he spoke about, the one that I found the most interesting was the last one: overcoming gaps between international order and reality. To summarize, his key message was that in order to promote digital innovation on a global scale, we need leadership to create trade and investment rules between Japan and the US that are for the 21st century and beyond.
Seko-san’s biggest concern is digital protectionism — an often used term that can also be misconstrued. But I believe the Minister’s definition is nations who control the internet and internet economy within their own state borders. Simply put by the Minister, Japan, US, and Europe need to be role-models on how to manage data such that other countries, including developing ones, will follow.

USITC’s Definition of Digital Protectionism: “barriers or impediments to digital trade including censorship, filtering, localization measures and regulations to protect privacy.”

At the end of this speech, the Minister underscored that “Japan is Ready” to play a role in supporting this shift to the 4th industrial revolution on a global scale by working closely with the United States. Japan needs the United States probably more than the other way around and needs to continue to put its rhetoric into action. I hope Seko-san and Abe-san’s administration will show the world just how ready they are by leading the charge in international trade and investment cooperation.

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