Oct 23, 2020

EU Automation: welcome to society 5.0

EU Automation
Society 5.0
John Young
5 min
view of earth from space
John Young, APAC director at EU Automation takes a closer look at the Japanese vision of Society 5.0...

 From Industry 4.0 to Society 5.0, it is hard to keep pace with the latest buzzwords. This might leave you wondering if many of these slogans are offering new value. Here, John Young, APAC director at automation parts supplier EU Automation, demystifies the concept of Society 5.0 and explains how this notion can be an invitation for businesses to think about tech in more imaginative and collaborative ways.

If you are already reading this article, then chances are you have heard of the idea of Industry 4.0? The phrase can be traced to the Hannover Fair in Germany in 2011 where three Germany engineers set out their vision for how the latest smart technologies would fundamentally transform manufacturing. 

The notion of a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ was further popularized in a 2015 essay for Foreign Affairs by the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab. Both ideas are heavily associated with digital technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart sensors.

Building on these ideas, the Japanese government introduce the idea of Society 5.0 in 2017. This is based on the idea that the world has experienced four distinct civilizational stages: hunter gatherer societies, the agricultural revolution, industrial societies and now the current ‘Information Age’ or Society 4.0. 

The next phase, Society 5.0, will be reached by using digital technologies like robotics, big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and the IoT to solve societal problems in ways that were previously out of reach. This concept has been the centrepiece of the Growth Strategy of the Shinzo Abe governments in Japan and it has been embraced by the Business Federation of Japan as the ‘Imagination Society’.

Industry 4.0 and Society 5.0 are sometimes used interchangeably, and a cynic might see the latter as a buzzword that offers little that is new. Yet while it may be over-exaggerating to talk about a further revolution, Society 5.0 does encourage us to further broaden our horizons when thinking about technology. It therefore takes us beyond the confines of Industry 4.0 in two distinct ways.

Firstly, Society 5.0 is about making sure the benefits of technology to ordinary people and our everyday lives are not lost in the pursuit of technological advancement for its own sake. In the Japanese context, it is a way of leveraging technology to address societal challenges such as an ageing population and low levels of productivity. 

Secondly, Society 5.0 is about solving problems. Furthermore, it is about solving problems that technology has, until very recently, struggled to find answers for. For example, gathering vast data is of little use without the correct tools to make sense of it. The transition from 4.0 to 5.0 is therefore marked at the point at which AI allows human beings to take advantage of the vast amounts of data being generated by digital technologies. 

Smart sensors

In manufacturing, smart sensors can monitor the condition of factory equipment and upload real-time data to the cloud. This data can then be monitored by AI applications and replacement parts can be ordered from a reliable parts supplier like EU Automation using predictive maintenance. 

Implemented properly, this is quicker and more reliable than having a human agent fulfil the same task. This sort of technology is a classic example of what people envision when they talk about Industry 4.0.

Society 5.0 encourages us to direct our focus toward how this technology can help address societal problems. Let’s take healthcare as a good example, given the salience of this sector right now. 

Modern wearable technologies can be embedded with smart sensors that monitor your vitals. This data can then be relayed in real-time to the cloud. Your health practitioner can now monitor the general wellbeing of patients with chronic conditions digitally, allowing them to react quickly to any warning signs and provide timely advice without necessitating physical contact or traveling to and from a surgery. 


Some companies are now experimenting with the use of drones in manufacturing. While this technology has the potential to be an effective addition to the factory floor, it is currently in its early stages of development. Right now, the best use of drones in manufacturing is for carrying out visual audits of large areas that require regular checking and monitoring for safety reasons.

Moving away from the factory floor, the impact of drones might be more fundamental. In Australia, both academics and industry are already collaborating to use drone technology to help tackle the threat of bushfires. Used effectively, drones can map and predict the size and spread of bushfires much more effectively than existing satellite technology. They are also being used to help discover and monitor and widely loved but endangered species, the Koala bear.

In Singapore, meanwhile, there is talk of using drones to deliver urgent medical supplies to citizens. While in China drones are being used in an agricultural setting to combat labor shortages. What these examples show is that an existing technology might currently have limited applications from the perspective of Industry 4.0, but things look quite differently through the lens of Society 5.0.

It is difficult to view Society 5.0 as a revolution that supersedes the fourth industrial revolution, given that both appear to rely on the same set of technologies. However, in the ongoing debate over the role of technology in society, the ‘Imagination Society’ is a 

a welcome stimulus to think about technology and its uses in novel and interesting ways. 

For more information on business topics in Asia Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief APAC.

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Jun 10, 2021

Why Alibaba Cloud is doubling down in Southeast Asia

Kate Birch
4 min
Amid fierce competition, Alibaba announces expansion of its cloud business in Southeast Asia, with plans to upskill developers and launch more datacenters

Alibaba has announced expansion of its cloud business within Southeast Asia, with the introduction of a digital upskilling programme for locals alongside acceleration of its data centre openings.

This doubling down of its cloud business in Southeast Asia comes as the company faces stiff competition at home in China from rivals including Pinduoduo Inc and Tencent and seeks to up its game in a region considered to be the fastest-growing in cloud adoption to compete with leading global cloud providers AWS, Google and Microsoft.

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and second biggest revenue driver after its core e-commerce business, finally turned profitable for the first time in the December 2020 following 11 years of operation, thanks largely to the pandemic which has spurred businesses and consumers to get online.

Southeast Asia growing demand for cloud

In 2020, there was a noticeable increase in interest towards cloud in SE Asia, with the population embracing digital transformation during the pandemic and SMEs across the region showing increased demand for cloud computing.

Such demand has led to the expectation that Southeast Asia is now the fastest-growing adopter of cloud computing with the cloud market expected to reach US$40.32bn in Southeast Asia by 2025 according to IDC.

And there are plenty of players vying for a slice of the cloud pie. While AWS, the cloud arm of Amazon, is the leading player in Southeast Asia (and across all of APAC apart from China), Microsoft and Google are the next two most dominant players in Southeast Asia with Alibaba coming in fourth.

“There is no doubt that during the past year we have seen the acceleration of digital transformation efforts across all industries,” explains Ahmed Mazhari, President, Microsoft Asia. “Asia now accounts for 60% of the world’s growth and is leading the global recovery with the digitalization of business models and economies. Cloud will continue to be a core foundation empowering the realization of Asia’s ambitions, enabling co-innovation across industries, government and community, to drive inclusive societal progress.”

Alibaba’s commitment to Southeast Asia

At its annual Alibaba Cloud Summit, the Chinese company announced Project AsiaForward, an initiative designed to upskill local developers, small-to-medium-sized companies and connect businesses with venture capital. Alibaba said it would set aside US$1bn over the next three years to develop digital skills in the region, with the aim of helping to develop 100,000 developers and to help grow 100,000 tech startups.

But that’s not all. The company, which recently opened its third data centre in Indonesia, serving customers with offerings across database, security, network, machine learning and data analytics services, also announced it would unveil its first data centre in the Philippines by the end of 2021.

Furthermore, that it would establish its first international innovation centre, located in Malaysia, offering a one-stop shop platform for Malaysian SMEs, startups and developers to innovate in emerging technologies.

“We are seeing a strong demand for cloud-native technologies in emerging verticals across the region, from e-commerce and logistics platforms to FinTech and online entertainment. As the leading cloud service provider and trusted partner in APAC, we are committed to bettering the region’s cloud ecosystem and enhancing its digital infrastructure,” says Jeff Zhang, President, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.

What other cloud providers are pledging in the region

This pledge by Alibaba to upskill both individuals and businesses follows Microsoft’s announcement in April that it was planning to upskill Malaysia’s population and would invest US$1bn over the next five years to build a new data centre centre in Malaysia.

This is the latest in a long line of pledges to the region by the US tech giant, which is fast accelerating the growth of its cloud datacenter footprint in Asia, expanding form seven 11 markets, and recently adding three new markets across Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan. Back in February, it announced plans to establish its first datacenter region in Indonesia and to skill an additional 3 million Indonesians to achieve its goal of empowering over 24 million Indonesians by the end of 2021.

And recent research by IDC shows that Microsoft’s most recent datacenter expansions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan alone are set to generate more than US$21bn in new revenues and will create 100,000 new jobs in the next four years.

Also last month, Tencent announced it has launched internet data centres in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo to add to its second availability zone opened in Korea last year and plans to add an internet data center in Indonesia, and Google has also been pushing into the enterprise space in Southeast Asia for several years now.

Expanding data centers allows cloud providers to boost their capacity in certain countries or regions.



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