Japan sets out its goals in $1bn technological research programme

By on 05/08/2019 | Updated on 04/02/2022
Funding research into robotics and other technologies that can ease societal challenges plays a significant part in the moonshot programme. (Image courtesy: Marco Verch / flickr).

The Japanese government has pledged to spend ¥100bn (US$944m) on a range of ambitious programmes designed to address major societal challenges, including a project that aims to eliminate plastic waste and a medical technology scheme designed to overcome age-related loss of vision and hearing.

The ‘moonshot’ programme, run by Japan’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, has funding for five years to sponsor the people and companies behind promising research proposals. Its name captures the ambition of large, generously funded projects with lofty and inspiring goals – such as NASA’s Apollo programme – and many of the selected projects lean heavily on AI technology.

The proposals come under three research themes: coping with the challenges arising from Japan’s ageing society and low birthrate; restoring Earth’s environment while cultivating urban civilisation; and reaching new frontiers in science and technology.

New frontiers

The Japan Times reported the 25 goals, which include automating all jobs in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries by 2040, through the introduction of AI and robots; enabling access to advanced medical services, anywhere in the world and at any time needed, by 2040; and eliminating plastic waste from the Earth by 2050, including through the development of alternative materials.

Other goals include combining machines with living tissues by 2050, with the aim of overcoming age-linked deterioration of vision and hearing, as well as cognitive and physical capacities; and creating an autonomous system to make scientific discoveries at a Nobel Prize level by 2050. Under the system, AI would formulate hypotheses from enormous amounts of existing experimental data, and robots would conduct experiments to prove them.

At the more extreme end of the scale, researchers could work to make human behaviour and experiences possible via avatars by 2040. This could, for example, enable people to ‘travel’ overseas while staying at home, and permit physically disabled people to participate more easily in society via avatars.

The panel announced its list at a meeting on 31 July, and will consult experts before settling on a final list of around five to 10 goals at a meeting chaired by prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Fourth industrial revolution

In a Council for Science, Technology and Innovation meeting in June last year, Abe said: “In an era where the world is experiencing dynamic and transformative change that can be called the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, we must create a new ecosystem of innovation in Japan, so that we become the country that is best positioned to generate innovation in the world.

“This strategy includes initiatives aimed at supporting so-called ‘moonshot’ research and development, whereby the wisdom of the private sector is brought together in pursuit of ambitious targets.

“I ask that the relevant ministers work as one and swiftly and steadily implement bold policies that are not constrained by conventional thinking, firmly looking ahead to the future and positioning this strategy in the centre of the Cabinet’s growth strategy.”

It is expected that, due to the cutting edge technologies required to realise the government’s goals, not all of them will be realised. As reported by international science journal Nature, experts believe that if a goal is not achieved, projects might still be considered successful if, for instance, they contribute to the emergence of new communities of researchers focused on specific problems.  

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

One Comment

  1. Jacques Pinard says:

    They should deal and FIX their PowerPlant in Fukoshima … Why put this planetary problem under the rug??? Fukoshima nuclear major problems will not go away … This SHOULD be prioritised because we may not reach 2050 in the world as we know it … Earth is contaminated with deadly levels of nuclear/radioactive atmosphere …:(

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