The Fourth Industrial Revolution

We are now experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a period of rapid change driven by progress in science and technology. The main drivers of 4IR are AI, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). Japan will play a leading role in global innovation with a new World Economic Forum (WEF) center devoted to maximizing the potential of the 4IR, says Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman.

“Japan is not sufficiently recognized for its innovative capabilities,” Schwab said in a recent interview with Forbes Japan. “The world is speaking about what’s happening in Silicon Valley and Shenzhen, but it is not aware that Japan has created a very successful startup community.”

How does the Fourth Industrial Revolution differ from the Third?
Do you agree that Japan will lead the way in 4IR? Why or why not?
What are the benefits of 4IR? What are the risks?

New minpaku law regulates rentals

A new law will go into effect in June 2018 to regulate minpaku, private residences rented out by their owners as short-term lodgings. The new law will address changes that have occurred in recent years due to the rise of Airbnb, the worldwide online service that allows travelers to book rooms in private homes directly from the owners of those residences.

After June 15, minpaku rentals will be permitted throughout Japan. Under the new law, if owners don’t live in the building where they rent rooms, they will be required to hire a management company to take care of the property. 

What is your opinion of minpaku?
Are you, or anyone you know, involved in the minpaku business? Do you think it has the potential to create significant revenue for Japan?
When you travel, do you prefer to stay in hotels or in more intimate lodgings such as Airbnb or minpaku rentals?

Mitsubishi Financial to launch AI

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group plans to establish an organization to look into the use of artificial intelligence in loan application screenings and market trend predictions.

The new entity will be called MUFG AI Studio. MUFG aims to develop new financial services and improve operational effectiveness by proactively adopting AI in the financial sector. They will use AI to screen loan applications through analyzing the risk of bankruptcy and other factors because AI is capable of understanding corporate earnings and financial flows. The AI is also expected to read worldwide news reports and forecast changes in stock and bond prices.

Under the initiative, MUFG is also considering using AI in other areas, including to collect expertise from people who have performed well in trading bonds and to find new loan borrowers. MUFG would then use that expertise to train its employees.

Would you be comfortable with AI deciding your application for a loan?
Do you think AI can help make loan decisions and predict market trends?
Describe the role you think AI will play in finance 5 years from now.
Do you see any risks with AI playing a bigger role in finance?

Migratory birds in danger

The Trump administration has announced a position on protecting migratory birds that is a drastic pullback from policies in force for the past 100 years.

In 1916, the U.S.A. and Great Britain signed the Migratory Bird Treaty, which became U.S. law in 1918. The measures protected more than 1,100 migratory bird species by making it illegal to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell live or dead birds, feathers, eggs, and nests, except as allowed by permit or regulated hunting.

Now the Interior Department has issued a legal opinion that excludes “incidental take” – activities that are not intended to harm birds but do so in ways that could have been foreseen, such as filling in wetlands where migrating birds rest and feed. Why? For fear of “unlimited potential for criminal prosecution,” such as charging cat owners whose pets attack migratory birds, or drivers who accidentally strike birds with their cars, with crimes.

The article says the U.S. "announced a position... that is a drastic pullback." What's another way to say that?
Why is the shift in U.S. policy concerning the MBTA relevant to other nations?
What other issues transcend national borders?
If environmental protections are a financial burden to a nation's economy, should business protections take precedence over environmental ones?

Blockchain technology in space

Future spacecraft could think for themselves using the same technology that powers Bitcoin.

A new $330,000 NASA grant supports work to develop autonomous spacecraft that could make more decisions without human intervention. One example could be enabling spacecraft to dodge space debris faster than a human on Earth could help out the far-away probe.

"I hope to develop technology that can recognize environmental threats and avoid them, as well as complete a number of tasks automatically," principal investigator Jin Wei Kocsis, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at The University of Akron in Ohio, said in the statement. 

If proven, Wei Kocsis' early-stage research would be especially useful in deep-space environments, where spacecraft communicating back to Earth must currently wait for hours for a response.

There is a lot of excitement about blockchain technology today. Do you think it deserves the attention it's getting?
What uses do you see for blockchain technology in Japan?
What do you think about deep space exploration? Is it worth the cost?

Luxury space hotel

Well-heeled space tourists will have a new orbital destination four years from now, if one company's plans come to fruition. The California-based startup Orion Span aims to loft its "Aurora Station" in late 2021 and begin accommodating guests in 2022.

"We are launching the first-ever affordable luxury space hotel," said Orion Span founder and CEO Frank Bunger. A 12-day stay aboard Aurora Station will start at $9.5 million, which is quite a bit less than orbital tourists have paid in the past. From 2001 through 2009, seven private citizens took a total of eight trips to the International Space Station, paying an estimated $20 million to $40 million each time.

Aurora Station will be about the size of a large private jet's cabin and will accommodate four paying guests and two crewmembers. Orion Span plans to add more modules onto the original Aurora Station core over time as demand grows.

Do you think the start-up company Orion Span will be successful? Why or why not?
In your opinion, is the cost of LEO industries a good investment for the future?
Discuss the pros and cons of exploiting low Earth orbit space.
How much would you pay for a space holiday?

Let workers sleep

Many business leaders still believe that time on-task equates to productivity. However, studies have shown that shorter amounts of sleep lead to both lower efficiency and slower completion of basic tasks. That is, sleepy employees are unproductive employees, and they generate fewer and less accurate solutions to problems.

Many people don't understand that when you are not getting enough sleep, you work less productively and thus need to work longer hours to accomplish a goal, creating a negative feedback loop.

The effects of sleep deficiency on CEOs and supervisors are equally powerful. On days when the supervisor was under-slept, the employees rated them as having worse self-control and being more abusive to others.

Allowing and encouraging employees, supervisors, and executives to arrive at work well rested makes them productive individuals who inspire and support one another. Ounces of sleep offer pounds of business in return.

How much sleep do you need to be productive on the job? Are you able to get that much sleep regularly?
If you talked to your CEO, what would your argument be for reducing work hours to get more sleep?
Why is getting enough sleep important?
Do you think an afternoon "siesta" is a possible solution?

Japan asks China for pandas

The Japanese government has asked the Chinese government to loan Japan more giant pandas. Amid the growing popularity of the giant panda cub Xiang Xiang, who is on public view at Ueno Zoo in Taito Ward, Tokyo, the Japanese government hopes to realize the loan as soon as possible as a symbol of improved relations between Japan and China.

The Japanese government is considering Oji Zoo and Yagiyama Zoological Park in Sendai as possible breeding facilities for new pandas. Oji Zoo has only one female, Tan Tan, meaning they need a male for breeding. Yagiyama Zoological Park has petitioned for pandas, to cheer up people affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Giant pandas are extremely popular in each country for their cute appearance and rarity; they have become an important diplomatic tool for the Chinese government. China is likely to decide whether to loan more pandas after carefully examining developments in China-Japan relationships.

In what way does China loaning pandas to Japan symbolize improved relationships between the two countries?
In your opinion, is spending ¥100 million per year for a panda worth the money?
Why do people love pandas so much?

Entrepreneurship in Japan

The start-up scene in Japan has historically lagged behind the Silicon Valley and China, but several investors told CNBC that things are changing.

Workers have traditionally seen starting a company as "kind of a Plan B," according to James Riney, head of 500 Startups Japan. Finding entrepreneurial talent in the country used to be difficult because of an aversion to risk among Japanese workers. Many wanted the stability of corporate or public-sector jobs.

"If you didn't get into the major companies, the brand name companies, entrepreneurship was kind of like this second option that you could consider," Riney told CNBC.

Today, many young people are joining start-ups even as corporate Japan grapples with a labor shortage.

How do you see the attitude towards entrepreneurship changing in Japan?
Would you consider starting your own business? What business would it be?
In your opinion, is it better to stay safe, or to take a risk?

Video: why Japan has no gun deaths

Watch the explainer video "Why Japan has no mass shootings," then discuss it with your teacher.

Japan has fewer than 10 shooting deaths per year, compared to 33,000 in the U.S. What are some of the reasons for this?
What can Japan teach the United States about gun ownership?
What do you think about the "infotainment" video? Would you like to watch more in your own time?