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

The COVID-19 pandemic will not only have huge economic consequences that far exceed those of the 2008 Lehman collapse but also drive transformative changes in politics, economics, and social behavior. On the other hand, however, the existence of information infrastructure deployed across society (especially the Internet, which connects all organizations and individuals globally via digital network technology) has helped to avert potentially fatal and destructive consequences for social and industrial activity. In short, it is widely recognized that the digitalization of society, moves to bring organizations’ individual systems online, and the formation of global networks that transcend national boundaries have played a major role in preventing catastrophic social and industrial collapse at the hands of COVID-19. And accelerating the evolution of social and industrial infrastructure into cyber-first systems premised on the existence of our modern online world is now seen as crucial.

The internet initially started out as a large network of computers (that would be considered antique by today’s standards) shared by multiple researchers, but as semiconductor technology advanced and evolved, a wider range of digital devices also came online, including mobile devices (handhelds, laptops, palmtops) as well as tiny computing devices that can even be embedded into other devices. People call this the Internet of Things (IoT). This IoT world paradigm is exactly what WIDE Project envisioned with respect to research & development on and the popularization of IPv6, the next-generation internet protocol that it has been focusing its efforts on since the late 1990s, and it was our shared direction under the e-Japan Strategy laid out in 2000. The vision is that transparently interconnecting all people, all industries, and all digital devices on Earth will spark the creation and realization of innovative, never-before-seen services. We felt that the transparency built into the Internet’s genetic code would be a key requirement for achieving the Internet’s sustained development as part of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). And even today, I think transparency can be regarded as an extremely important requirement from a technical standpoint when it comes to the sustained development of the Internet. Having recognized that the IoT worldview has already evolved into the realm of the IoF (Internet of Functions) thanks to the rise and proliferation of virtual machines, we have begun engaging in research & development geared toward making the IoF a reality. In a broad sense, this is the unbundling of services and hardware, also known as un-wire-ing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated problems that were already endemic to society before the virus appeared, such as discrimination and inequality, and it has also prompted a recognition of the me-first nature of humans and humanity and of how humanity’s capabilities pale before the power of nature. This has made us all keenly aware of the importance of sustainable development and indeed the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). To address these circumstances and problems, we need to sharply accelerate the digitalization, onlineization, and digital transformation (DX) of our world, and to make this happen, I believe we need to recognize, and indeed bring to life and utilize, the aspects of the Internet (or the Internet’s genetic code) by which it provides essential architecture for sustainable growth. Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has put forward the “Compact + Network” (compact, network-based) concept, and Japan’s Ministry of the Environment has proposed the idea of “local cyclical ecosystems” as part of the grand plan for 21st-century cities and towns. These ideas entail creating compact cities and towns across different regions that fulfill the SDGs, and networking them to create an autonomous distributed network. The aim is to create cities and towns with the capabilities to respond to and manage the risks associated with emergencies resulting from natural disasters and other events, and to do so in a way that facilitates global networking. From the perspective of being able to manage risks, cities and towns need the ability to be self-sufficient, and this rests on the notion of autonomous decentralized cooperation reminiscent of how the Internet works, rather than implying that they take a me-first stance and form exclusive or asymmetrical relationships with other cities and towns.

Japan’s 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan put forward the Society 5.0 concept. Discussion aimed at shaping the 6th Science and Technology Basic Plan’s vision to follow on from this began in 2019, and the content had largely come together by the end of 2020. In connection with this work on the new Science and Technology Basic Plan, WIDE Project put forward a vision and specific measures designed to drive progress toward more sophisticated and smarter social infrastructure premised on the availability and ongoing evolution of the internet. Given the Internet’s broad reach throughout society and the availability of commercial Internet services, and in view of how the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed long-standing social and political problems, people now see the task of keeping the Internet up and running and enhancing the quality of trust it offers as a key priority. It is crucial that we remain acutely aware of the importance of maintaining and developing environments apt to creating and forming the knowledge and experience to independently design, implement, build, and operate global research & development networks, and that we reaffirm the responsibilities that WIDE Project shares with all of its member organizations.

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. 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. With your help and cooperation, I am excited at the prospect of being able to expand our collaborative efforts to bring about global social infrastructure, with the COVID-19 pandemic providing a major impetus to rethink and transform these efforts (although we will of course continue to pursue our shared direction).

Hiroshi Esaki
March 2021