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HOME  >  Special Subject  >  2021  >  Comments by Selection Committee Chair

Hideaki Shiroyama
Graduate Schools for Law and Politics, the University of Tokyo

Specail Topic “Co-Creating New Society with Advanced Technologies”

The Toyota Foundation established Co-Creating New Society with Advanced Technologies as a Special Subject in fiscal 2018. In the face of emerging advanced technologies like AI, the objective is to support research that deals with questions based on the perspective of the users of advanced technology, such as how these technologies should be handled in society, what kinds of social issues will be solved with such technology, and what kind of vision there should be for human society in the future. This year the Special Subject conducted its fourth call for proposals, received 22 applications with a broad range of content, and finally selected five projects. 

The projects selected can be roughly divided into three categories.

The first category of projects examines the possibilities and challenges of using advanced technology in specific settings. This year three practical projects related to health, specifically mental health in a broad sense, were selected. These three projects are D21-ST-0010 “Mental Health Measures for Teleworkers Using XR Technology in the post-COVID Era,” Kiyoaki Arakawa, Business Development Manager, Michele, Inc., D21-ST-0013 “A New Way of Mental Health Care that Utilizes Technology and Leaves No One Behind,” Masayoshi Sakurai, Representative, General Incorporated Association ZIAI, and D21-ST-0003 “Creating an ‘Emotion Mobile Laboratory’ for Preventing Burnout of Health Professionals,” Osamu Nomura, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency and Disaster Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine, Hirosaki University.

The first project is a proposal that aims to help improve the working environment for teleworkers by using their gaze, conversation, gestures, and so on to measure stress while teleworking to address the current and important issue of mental health measures for teleworkers.

The second project is a proposal to analyze counseling conversations using artificial intelligence and develop a set of tools as a mechanism for improving mental healthcare support as manifested during the COVID-19 pandemic with the aim of making up for the shortfall of counsellors as well as improving the quality of counselling. These two projects have some similarities as they both focus on mental health and are led by young people from companies and NPOs. However, they also contrast as the first project focuses on the use of specific technologies, while the second project aims to solve system-level problems by closing the "service gap" in mental health support.

The third project in this category aims to prevent burnout and ensure wellness among healthcare professionals, a key challenge in the contemporary healthcare system, by using wearable devices to measure the emotional data of healthcare professionals in order to recognize and respond to the signs of burnout as early as possible. It incorporates not only the construction of a system, but also its utilization in a frontline setting. The applications of this method are not limited to the burnout of health professionals, and it is also expected to be used for managing mental stress in society in general.

“The second category of project consists of research concerned with the very question of how to actually introduce advanced technology into society while taking into account the concerns and interests of citizens when such advanced technology is introduced. D21-ST-0015 “Designing Future Personal Data Use through Co-Creation with Citizens,” Masako Kitazaki, Associate Professor, College of Art and Design, Department of Visual Communication Design, Musashino Art University falls into this category. This project aims to develop a living lab methodology in a frontline setting in collaboration with a variety of corporations and others when introducing new technology into society. It is intended that the living lab methodology will provide ways of introducing such technology cooperatively with citizens in a form that makes sense to them instead of introducing the finished product from the outset, as a means of reducing citizen resistance and taking privacy into consideration when introducing this new technology, such as AI, into society. The interesting aspect of this process is the collaboration between art and technology.

The third category of project consists of research that attempts to systematically address the fundamental philosophical issues raised when advanced technology enters society. D21-ST-0012 “Pioneering ‘Artificial Subject Studies’: A New Framework for Advancing Interdisciplinary Studies on the Ideal Form of the Co-Existence Between Human Beings and Artificial Subjects,” Katsunori Miyahara, Specially Appointed Lecturer, Center for Human Nature, Artificial Intelligence, and Neuroscience, Hokkaido University falls into this category. This ambitious project will attempt to study artificial subjectivity, a fundamental philosophical issue associated with adoption of AI and robots by society, and the conditions for coexistence between humans and artificial subjects. The distinctive feature of this project is that it has built a research team with diverse members, including humanities researchers as well as science researchers and start-up entrepreneurs.

This year, many projects in the first category which examine the possibilities and challenges of using advanced technology in specific settings were selected as was the case last year. However, the research subject differed slightly from the conventional field of healthcare and welfare, and a distinctive feature was that there were many studies focused on the issue of mental health in a broad sense, which is thought to reflect the social issues of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to such frontline setting-based projects, another distinctive feature of this year’s program is the selection of a project concerned with methods for introducing technology into society and research in which a cross-disciplinary team will address the fundamental philosophical issues raised by advanced technology. Overall, there is considered to be a good balance of selected projects.

However, the challenges of advanced technology and society are much broader, and it is hoped that a greater variety of projects will be proposed and adopted in the future. Greater diversity in the scale and nature of the projects solicited by the program may be one future direction for encouraging submission of such a variety of proposals.

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