Hiroshi Esaki, Ph.D.
Hiroshi Esaki, Ph.D. Director


Several important global conferences of relevance to the Internet took place in Japan in 2023. In March, WIDE Project, working alongside a range of other sponsors, hosted the 116th IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) meeting in Yokohama, marking the fourth time the event has come to Japan. Japan hosted the G7 Summit in Hiroshima in June, the APNIC Conference was held in Kyoto in September, and the IGF (Internet Governance Forum) took place in Kyoto in October. And 2023 also marked the first time since Covid that an IETF meeting (these meetings are held to discuss and develop Internet technical standards) was held in Asia, and with a whole host of participants visiting from abroad, the meeting welcomed over a thousand people in total. This was also the first time an IGF meeting was held in Japan. The overarching theme laid out was “The Internet We Want—Empowering All People.” It was also the first post-Covid IGF meeting, attracting the most participants ever (6,279 onsite and over 3,000 online). In sum, it provided a fantastic opportunity for Japan to facilitate global discussion aimed at driving and evolving social and economic initiatives premised on the existence and use of the Internet in a multi-stakeholder setting (which includes governments worldwide).

With the Internet, we have created a shared digital infrastructure that spans the globe, interconnecting physical resources built and operated through a whole range of technologies and organizations. We must ensure that this globe-spanning digital space is able to host a great diversity of communities and permit both individuals and organizations the freedom to use the Internet unrestrained by national borders and other geographic restrictions. This implies the operation and management of global infrastructure on a multi-stakeholder basis.

In the early days, the Internet user base consisted mainly of engineers who implicitly trusted each other, but the growth and expansion of the Internet brought with it an increase in the number of individuals and organizations using the Internet for improper purposes. It was in this context that Japan proposed DFFT (Data Free Flow with Trust) to the rest of the world. The 2023 IGF meeting saw active discussion on generative AI, which had become one of 2023’s keywords, and the G7 leaders published a statement in support of the Hiroshima AI Process, which had been presented to the G7, and which sets out international guidelines and a code of conduct for AI developers. When it comes to generative AI, people already knew that the explosive increase in false information along with the pronounced difficulty of recognizing and authenticating such information was a major problem, and while awareness of this problem is becoming widespread, participants also discussed the effectiveness of generative AI as well as its social and industrial impact and presented many agenda items for humanity to tackle ahead.

We recognize that the Internet and digital technology have an important role to play, and indeed a responsibility, when it comes to the issues that humanity must address if it is to generate sustainable activity and continue to grow. We must work together to build digital infrastructure for a new era without decoupling. That is, we must cooperate with people the world over to solve the problems that we humans face not only within Japan but around the globe.

Many people associated with WIDE Project, including founder Jun Murai, were heavily involved in the design and implementation of Japan’s Digital Agency, which launched in September 2020. The agency has a role to fulfill as the core driver and leader of the digitization of the Japanese government, of the country’s local governments, and indeed, of all industries. This constitutes the realization of the e-Japan concept floated around 2000 and geared toward creating an environment in which computers all over Japan would be connected to the broadband Internet. Back then, WIDE Project had recognized that the role of IPv6 was to interconnect all industries and create an environment in which all digital devices have an IP and are interconnected, and we thus began working on research relevant to making the IoT (Internet of Things) possible. IPv6 penetration has reached milestone levels in Japan, at over 80% on fixed-line connections and closing in on 70% in the mobile phone space. The challenge of developing the next iteration of infrastructure premised on the availability of IPv6 as a given begins in 2024, and as such the IPv6 Promotion Council and the Initiative for IPv6-based Internet (formerly the Task Force on IPv4 Address Exhaustion), organizations that WIDE Project played a central role in establishing, are now set to be wound up. It is now time to implement the concept of Society 5.0 as laid out in Japan’s 5th Comprehensive Science and Technology Basic Plan. The 6th Science, Technology and Innovation Basic Plan, which I was also involved in as a committee member, is also in line with what was laid out in the 5th Basic Plan. That is, it recognized that Society 5.0 had not actually been implemented, as was made clear by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it set out “respect for diversity” and the “true implementation of Society 5.0” as major directional goals. Moreover, since its inception, WIDE Project has recognized that comprehensive knowledge incorporating an understanding of the humanities in addition to science and technology is essential to the implementation and realization of social innovation—that is, it is crucial for the humanities and the sciences to work together—and this has prompted a realization that the humanities have a crucial role to play in research and development on science and technology. This gives rise to social innovations that draw on new technologies, and our view is that we need to discuss and implement such innovations in a multi-stakeholder environment. Further, it also states that end users and society are the ones who ultimately evaluate the digital network environment, and this is something that we recognize as having been our mission since WIDE Project began.

Since the Covid pandemic, we have continued to witness an evolution toward cyber-first social and industrial infrastructure premised on the notion of society being online. The vision is to transparently interconnect all people, all industries, and all digital devices across the globe and thereby drive the creation of innovative, never-before-seen services. At WIDE Project, with the rise and spread of virtual machines, our perspective on IoT has evolved from the IoT paradigm into the concept of the IoF (Internet of Functions), and we were also an early mover on research and development geared toward making the IoF a reality. This entails the unbundling of services and hardware, also known as un-wire-ing, and an evolution toward an un-wired global system.

Moreover, the pandemic revealed and accentuated social problems that already existed before, such as discrimination and widening disparities, it has shown just how much the power of humanity pales in the face of the power of nature, and it has prompted an acute awareness of the importance of pursuing the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and carbon neutrality. I believe we must apply, and indeed unleash, the architecture of the Internet to all social and industrial infrastructure if we are to achieve the SDGs. The idea of ​​”compact & networked” cities and systems and the Ministry of the Environment’s concept of Regional Circular and Ecological Spheres embody the goal of creating cities and towns that achieve the SDGs in a compact manner within each region and networking them to create an autonomous decentralized network. This also relates to Japan’s vision for a Digital Garden City Nation. The aim is to create cities and towns that can be networked globally while also having the ability to manage risks and respond to emergencies caused by natural disasters and the like.

WIDE Project is operated as a consortium of academic and industrial partners. By offering an environment geared toward practical and applied research—which differs from the objective-based research common to business organizations and fundamental research found in academic circles, where creativity and originality are sought—WIDE Project has been able to achieve results that go beyond those of conventional research institutions. Moreover, WIDE Project always looks at entire systems and individual systems from a global perspective (and now from the even more broad and expansive perspective of space exploration). This is a research model unique to WIDE as a defining element, part of its genetic code, and it is essential that we further develop and maintain this approach to our research, and I would add here that we also have an increasing responsibility to make contributions that will benefit society.

In closing, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to all those individuals and organizations that have supported the activities of WIDE Project and ask for your continued participation, cooperation, guidance and encouragement, and I also ask that you refer potential new participants to us, whether they be individuals or organizations. With your help and cooperation, I am excited at the prospect of being able to expand our collaborative efforts to create new global digital social infrastructure for a post-Covid world.

March 2024