It is widely recognized that many of the problems which today`s society faces, including problems which are related to science and technology, are difficult to solve within the scope of conventional, existing scientific disciplines. The “integration of disciplines” for problem resolution is necessary in order to achieve the following goals: to sustain a rich global environment, maintain a peaceful and safe society, expand the frontiers of science and technology, strength Japan's international competitiveness.
The importance of emerging and interdisciplinary research fields has been known for a long time. However, these fields have not been vigorously promoted for various reasons, including: these fields are only vaguely defined and the specific content of these fields has not been clearly defined; society’s need for these fields has not been clearly identified; these fields have not been organized into systematic categories; the researchers and the policy makers have little interest in these new fields.
Considering this situation, we conducted an investigation with the aim of identifying specific emerging and interdisciplinary research fields which are needed to solve major problems in society. We then recommended measures to promote these fields. In order to achieve these goals, the group took the following approach. Firstly, we listed some of the complex problems (challenges) which modern society faces. Secondly, we studied, from scratch, what kinds of science and technology fields are necessary to solve these problems. Thirdly, we identified emerging and interdisciplinary research fields.
As a result, several emerging and interdisciplinary fields were identified. They can be categorized into two types.
1. Emerging and interdisciplinary fields which will serve as the foundation for solving multiple problems or will provide tools for solving
2. Emerging and interdisciplinary fields which provide solutions to individual problems
The following are examples of science and technology which are classified into the first category.
• Handling of huge amounts of data
• Understanding human psychology and behavior
• Accommodation to evolution, mutations and degeneration
• Overcoming system complexity
• User-oriented services design and evaluation
• Risk governance
The following are examples of science and technology fields which have been classified into the second category.
• Controlling and making predictions about living organisms, society, etc. based on medical knowledge
• Environmentally friendly cutting-edge material science and ultra-long life material engineering • Science for studying changes in shapes and structures
• Science for the interactions between the global environment and society
In order to promote research in these emerging and interdisciplinary fields which will help to solve various problems, universities need to reconsider the relationship between humans and science/technology, and the relationship between society and science/technology. The universities should then conduct bold reforms in order to create a research system and a university system which will enable the “integration of disciplines” which transcend traditional disciplines and existing organizational frameworks. It is also necessary to develop systems which will provide further incentives to young researchers conducting research which is designed to solve problems, as well as educating top management to ensure the creation and implementation of such systems. Industry should invest in research by fully recognizing that the results of problem-solving interdisciplinary research shall be returned to society in the form of the creation of new industries and improvements in the capabilities of industries, etc. Members of society should recognize the value of research which is designed to solve problems, in addition to research which is conducted with autonomously-decided themes, and they should show their support for such research. Funding agencies should vigorously provide research funds in order to foster and promote interdisciplinary research fields which are necessary to solve major problems in society. The government should re-examine its traditional approach, i.e. individual discipline-based research which is conducted with autonomously-decided themes. The government should then change its science and technology administration by creating a system where interdisciplinary research which is designed to solve problems can be promoted along with the conventional types of research.