The surveys were conducted in Asia with the aim of understanding global trends in the information science and technology field, rather than focusing on domestic trends. We visited various sites in Asia and observed first-hand the activities of organizations which work to change society using information technology (IT). We also interviewed experts and identified vital social issues.
The examples that we visited and studied can be divided into two types. One type is the lifestyle innovation taking place in rural areas (referred to as the bottom of the pyramid, or BOP) which utilize IT in new ways. We visited leading social businesses including Drishtee in India and Grameen Communications in Bangladesh, as well as the RTBI (Rural Technology and Business Incubator) which is a business incubation center at a university in India. We also visited Science of Life Studies (SOLS) 24/7 in Malaysia which gives education with the aim of eradicating poverty. Through studying how IT has reinvigorated social activities, we explored new demands for IT.
The other type is advanced IT development and the infrastructural innovation taking place using the developed IT, in countries and communities which have a relatively high average income. As a typical example of a government which successfully exercised strong leadership to quickly disseminate technologies in society, we visited the Government of Singapore. In addition, we also visited NEC Laboratories Singapore which is a research and development (R&D) center recently established in Singapore by a major Japanese IT company NEC Corporation.
The organizations that we visited faced various issues concerning urban areas, rural areas, farmland, resources, the elderly, etc. The common issues raised by interviewees from all the organizations were “inequality,” “sustainability” and “the development of IT infrastructure.”
Inequality included inequality between urban areas and rural areas, inequality in skills and education, etc. The problem is that inequality causes society to lose vitality. What is worse, the inequality is increasing.
Problems concerning poverty, education, health, agriculture, etc. cannot be solved using temporary funds such as donations alone. It is essential to construct business ecosystems and ensure independent development.
The Development of IT Infrastructure
IT is the most fundamental infrastructure for solving social problems. Information will accelerate problem solving. It is also essential to integrate IT with social technologies in order to make full use of IT and to make it a useful tool for improving everyday life.
In the surveys, we studied the bottom-up utilization of IT in India and Bangladesh, the provision of IT education which is suitable for the realities in Malaysia, as well as the introduction of IT in society at the initiative of the Singaporean government. Issues raised by experts in various positions put the issues that Japan also faces into a global context. We will utilize the knowledge obtained from the surveys, when defining R&D areas that Japan should work on strategically in the information science and technology field in the future.