2018 New Year’s greeting from the University President

January 1, 2018

Date of activity: January 1, 2018

Happy New Year.

Last year was the University of Tokyo's 140th anniversary. That 140 years can be split into two periods of roughly 70 years each, divided in the middle by the Second World War. The first 70 years began with training the talented youth who went on to construct a modern state under the Meiji government, aiming to gain Japan a place among the international community as the country opened to the world. Actively absorbing western scholarship, the University of Tokyo's tradition of creating new disciplines through the fusion of Eastern and the Western academic practice was established. The second 70 years began with recovery after defeat. In the latter half of the twentieth century, driven by innovation in science and technology, industrialization advanced and the global economy expanded dramatically. In the process, Japan achieved astounding rapid economic growth and earned its status as a leading developed country while establishing a peaceful society. Again, the University of Tokyo has played a major role in this process by sending many talented alumni with cutting-edge academic research skills to all quarters of society.

Innovation in science and technology has endowed humanity with great power in this 140 years. The progress of science and technology has been accelerating ever faster since the beginning of this century, with drastic effects on society. At the same time, global environmental degradation, exhaustion of resources, interregional disparities and other global issues are becoming more obvious. Looking back over the past few years, I feel that the world is getting more and more unstable. New technology not only changes the lives of each of us individually, but also qualitatively changes the way we are connected. These changes are shaking the foundations of society, exposing the limitations of capitalism, democracy and the fundamental societal mechanisms built up over the centuries. Post-truth, a word we hear more and more these days, is perhaps one symptom of that change. The concerted diffusion of information can unleash emotions that become a huge swell of incredible power. We must push back against this wave and take firm control of new technologies, making them a tool for leading society toward a better future. What will drive this change is the power of knowledge. I feel that the responsibility of the university grows ever greater to provide a space to bring together knowledge and the people who can utilize it.

Another term that we often hear recently is internet of things, or IoT. The internet was created as a network connecting people and people, but the internet of things connects devices directly to the internet without human intervention. The volume of data generated by these devices is increasing at an accelerating rate as they communicate with each other in cyberspace. Furthermore, recent remarkable technological developments have made it possible to analyze this vast volume of data with artificial intelligence automatically and in real time, and to make use of the results. This is the birth of a new world, one in which the physical space of the real world and the cyberspace of the internet are deeply integrated. Whether we like it or not, it is clear that this will dramatically transform society. It will change the very ways in which people create value, that is, our entire industrial system. Every field of society will experience a paradigm shift.

In modern times, the shift from labor-intensive to capital-intensive industry has driven economic growth. As I mentioned above, developed countries including Japan industrialized within this model by shifting their focus from primary to secondary industry. Capital intensification also proceeded during the period of industrialization starting in the Meiji era and during the postwar period of high economic growth, remaking Japan into an industrialized country and one of the world's leading economic powers. However, the reverse side of that growth included the expansion of the divide between rural and urban areas and degradation of the environment. Now, we have to add the serious challenge of dealing with Japan's super-aging society.

A paradigm shift could turn this situation around. The deep integration of the physical world and cyberspace enables the creation of smart systems. Without regard to categorization as primary, secondary or tertiary, the implementation of such smart systems will bring about a qualitative change in all industrial activity at the same time. Objects will cease to be the embodiment of value; instead, knowledge and data will be the raw material for creating new value. In areas where productivity could not be improved without capital consolidation, it will be possible to increase productivity by connecting via cyberspace capital distributed in remote areas. This is a paradigm shift to a "knowledge-intensive" industrial model. The shift to a knowledge-intensive society is a chance to free ourselves of many of the challenges facing modern society today. This paradigm shift has the potential to shrink the disparity between urban and rural areas, and to allow each individual to make the most of their skills and achieve their maximum potential regardless of age, sex, or ability, creating a better society where everyone can participate.

However, it is not certain that we can go straight toward this ideal. In order to realize this society, the University of Tokyo provides a place for diverse people to gather and, sharing their ideas and cooperating with mutual respect, to create a new social structure that can guide human society in a better direction.

Espousing these principles, on June 30th last year the University of Tokyo was recognized as a designated national university. This makes it possible to further improve university management and to operate the university more autonomously than ever before. During our application for DNU status, we stated our aim of forming a global base for knowledge cooperation, able to contribute to the future of the Earth and humanity, and by utilizing our new status, I declared that the University of Tokyo would drive the transformation to a better society. In particular, sharing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as common goals both within and outside the university, we hope to build an even stronger relationship based on mutual trust and understanding as the basis for joint action. In July 2017, we established the Future Society Initiative (FSI) to oversee and promote this initiative, and have already started taking action.

In the coming year, I and all members of the University of Tokyo will continue to do our utmost to achieve these goals. I look forward to your continued warm support and cooperation.

I sincerely wish you all the best for the New Year.

Makoto Gonokami
President, The University of Tokyo
January 1st, 2018

  • President Makoto Gonokami<br />Photo: Jun-ichi Kaizuka
    President Makoto Gonokami
    Photo: Jun-ichi Kaizuka
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