Event Reports

Digital dialogue between utopia and dystopia

by David Gregosz, Katharina Naumann

Ambitions of Asian economies are immense

Over the past two decades, the American Silicon Valley has become the center of gravity for software and IT companies causing far-reaching social change through digital innovation and business models. Due to the promising economic outlook, Asian countries also aim to drive the digital future - with big steps and strong political will. In Beijing, Singapore, Tokyo, and Seoul, digital technologies are seen as an opportunity to accelerate economic development.

In Asian mega-cities, digital trends can be seen in a kind of burning glass, providing observers with a hands-on approach to the digital future. Therefore, the KAS regional program "Political Dialogue Asia" of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung brought together digital experts from Asia and Germany in Tokyo. In the capital of the world's third-largest economy, they discussed foreseeable technology surges, the future of work and appropriate digital strategies in connected societies.

The conference focused on the question of whether robots or digital technologies can replace human labor. Can the company of the future survive purely on connected, self-regulating machines, devices and products without people? What are the political and social implications? In addition to the exchange of perspectives and experiences, the participants were able to gain practical insights into of autonomous systems and the state of robotics on site during company and university visits.

Not only does the majority of the world´s internet users live in Asia. But massive support for technological breakthroughs in IoT applications, cloud technologies, artificial intelligence or robotics make Asia one of the most dynamic regions in the world. Through various government programs (Japan's "Society 5.0", Singapore's "Smart Nation Initiative") and industrial strategies ("Made in China 2025"), Asian states demonstrate their claim to technology leadership and the will to use and decisively shape the digital transformation. The rapid expansion of the physical infrastructure is a self-evident task, which is tackled with considerable funding.

During the discussions it emerged that the digital revolution could hit labor markets in emerging and developing countries in particular, due to their focus on manufacturing, labor-intensive or agricultural sectors. The fact that those countries are especially vulnerable and the impact this will have on their society has not been adequately addressed in the international future-of-work debate so far.

Studies anticipate a considerable potential for rationalization in developed countries as well due to the progressive development in the field of artificial intelligence, affecting even jobs requiring a high degree of qualification (doctors, lawyers). However, reforms of the education, tax and social systems can help to absorb these upcoming changes.

A major conclusion of the meeting was that digitization does not necessarily create less jobs, but different jobs.

A holistic digital strategy therefore has to include the following:

  • gradual improvement of the physical infrastructure,
  • ensuring digital participation,
  • development of innovative, lifelong learning and digital skills,
  • review of existing social and tax systems and labor market policies,
  • promoting of e-government,
  • ensuring data sovereignty and
  • adapting the regulatory framework to the digital age.
In all these fields, Germany can learn from best practice examples in Asia.