Impact of Digitization and Human Capital

Part 9: Both Conservative and Innovative Qualities Are Necessary

CHUMA Hiroyuki
Faculty Fellow, RIETI

As earlier pointed out, human capital must have both conservative and innovative qualities to be able to navigate changing environments in the era of multi-level competition. Taking the following steps is an effective way to achieve that end: (1) keeping accurate memories of past experiences (digital encoding), (2) fragmenting memories and skills acquired into modules to make them readily reusable (modularization), and (3) enabling more efficient reuse of memories and skills (standardization of interfaces). Human beings have also evolved over time, reaching a level where we can realize the benefits of informating in real time by following the above three steps. The remarkable development of 3D printing technologies in recent years is an eloquent example of this.

It is often said that 3D printing will enable the revolutionary return from the era of mass production to the era of cottage industries. Indeed, with the help of Creator's Space Nanolab, a rental workshop in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, I have been attempting to "turn the classroom into a shop floor" since last year, bringing my students to Nanolab to let them try out their knowledge in real-life settings. A 3D printer, resin material, design data, and design and processing applications are all we need. Personal computers and other interfaces linking those elements are all globally standardized products. Just by choosing their favorite mold, students can get a glimpse of how it is like making products on their own.

We will soon be entering an era in which full color 3D printers will be just affordable as inkjet printers for families are today. When that happens, even an unskilled amateur may be able to produce the only one of its kind in the world—whether it is a daily commodity, toy, accessory, figure, or whatever—depending on their power of imagination. If necessary, you can post your project on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform run by a public-benefit corporation based in the United States, to raise funds. There will be extensive multi-level competition to drive personalization and diversification, as anyone can join the race.

As shown by this example, a great variety of memories and skills made available in readily reusable modules and standardized interfaces linking them will create complex social networks characterized by strong interdependence among their members. This is the very nature of the era of Internet of Things (IoT), in which everything is connected. Such densely connected social networks will become the source of adaptability to changes, effectively generating human capital that have both conservative and innovative qualities. This is because such networks enable people to collaborate with each other and thereby quickly acquire skills needed to bring them to a new stage, while maintaining past achievements. We are not being required to become a solitary superman.

This is what I figured out from simulation experiments performed by Andreas Wagner, a system biologist and professor at the University of Zurich, and others.

>> Original text in Japanese

* Translated by RIETI.

May 29, 2017 Nihon Keizai Shimbun

March 9, 2018

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