Yasufumi Hirai on the dawn of an intelligent society

The last few centuries have seen the world make an astonishing transformation. Our simple, mostly agriculture-based society has evolved to the point where fruit grown in South America is now consumed in Japan, and a single company can sell 34,000 smartphones every hour. The industrial revolution has brought us a very long way in a very short span of time.

Despite the advances this era has seen, humankind’s journey is nowhere near complete. Rakuten CIO Yasufumi Hirai believes the world is now ready to take its next step – and move beyond the industrial era.

“If you take a look at the world we are living in today, we are seeing a significant transition from an industrial society to what I call an intelligent society,” he explained during his keynote speech at the recent Rakuten Technology Conference in Tokyo, where the conference theme was “the next adventure of humankind.”

“The industrial society was all about the rule of distribution. Natural resources, labor resources, compensation―all are distributed. On the other hand, intellectual property is based on the sharing model.”

Hirai believes that the rise of the internet and the sharing economyridesharing, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending―is one major driver of the transformation to an intelligent society. He borrows the words of renowned futurist and author of “The Third Wave,” Alvin Toffler: “One hammer cannot be shared with two people, but knowledge can be shared with multiple people.”

“Knowledge can be shared with millions of people in a second, if you leverage the power of the internet,” he continues. “The sharing economy will become a major part of our lives.”

For such an intelligent society to exist, Hirai believes the right architecture is crucial. “When business architecture meets technology architecture, something unbelievably amazing can be created.”

Today, the world’s internet architecture is powering people and businesses in a way that has never been possible before. “The internet itself is now becoming the 4th social infrastructure – alongside water, gas and electricity.”

Solid internet infrastructure is crucial to something else in the intelligent society: connectivity. The evolution of the internet has seen it jump out of wired networks and into cordless devices such as laptops and mobile phones, before finally spreading to so-called smart devices. Things we use in everyday life such as kettles, air-conditioners and even cars are being given new functionality we could only have dreamed of before the internet.

This recent trend of connecting such objects to the internet has been coined “the Internet of Things,” or IoT. “Today, if we connect something that was previously unconnected with people, data and business processing, we can see there are unlimited upside opportunities,” Hirai explains.

This is something particularly important for IoT developers. While many new tech waves require significant investments and resources in order to even get started, the IoT movement does not favor incumbent tech giants. This is because in developing IoT solutions, Hirai says, “larger enterprises see some cannibalization with their existing proprietary products and solutions.”

But this new movement doesn’t come without risks. “IoT is also the Internet of Threats,” says Hirai. “Once previously unconnected things are connected, we have a lot of unexpected security holes. We have to be prepared for these threats.”

At the end of the day, Hirai says that the purpose of such innovation should be to realize a better quality of life for people. “Humankind should be at the center, and technology should be around us.”

IoT, the sharing economy and an ever-improving internet infrastructure are now providing countless new opportunities for the next generation of innovators to make that possible. The intelligent society, it seems, may soon be a reality.

Read more posts from the Rakuten Technology Conference 2016 here.

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