(3) Future Uses of Resources and Technology

Globalization (including the latest decoupling crosscurrent) as the strongest economic trend that affects economies and polities worldwide is closely linked to the conceptualization of the future, and future themes are especially abundant in the fields of Resources and Technology.

HEILBRONER (1995) characterized the basic attitude towards the future as progress-oriented optimism for “Yesterday”, that is the period from c. 1700 to the 1950s, and as apprehension for “Today” in the U.S. and Western European societies which he studied. HÖLSCHER (2016) points to the prognoses of the Club of Rome (MEADOWS et al. 1972) as the turning point from an optimistic to a rather sombre view of the future due to the perceived “limits of growth” of globally available resources. Does this understanding also apply for East Asian societies? Research in this subtheme is planned to address these fundamental questions by focussing on some specific fields of resource allocation and technology development/implementation.

In Japan, numerous visions of “the city of the future” have been developed by architects, urban planners, and civil engineers since the emergence of urban planning science in the 1910s and 20s. Most Japanese protagonists considered contemporaneous Euro-American cities as models for the nation’s urban future. However, the birth of the Metabolist movement in the 1960s marked a turning point in terms of the transnational transfer of architectural and planning concepts. The Metabolists developed techno-utopias for urban megastructures that were never built but paved the way for the global dissemination of Japanese architectural thought and practice.

Rapid technological progress, the digitalization of business and social interaction as well as the rise of learning machines and artificial intelligence have dramatically changed and continue to all spheres of social interaction. While in the “West” the need to preserve hard-won civil liberties and addressing a future of risks arising with these new (uncontrollable?) technologies seems to dominate the social discourse, in East Asia the discussion appears to tend more towards the concept of futures of expectation and planning. China stands at the forefront of these developments as it allows for broad ranges of “laissez-faire” in the development and implementation of these new technologies (TAUBE 2018b, NOESSELT 2020). As China’s proclaimed goal is to position itself as the leading centre for global AI innovation by 2035 and to define globally binding standards (“China Standards 2035”), both the US and the EU are currently preparing novel strategies to cope with the expected future AI power struggles.

The impact of developments on industrial organization, labour relations, consumer behaviour and cross-border business interaction as well as government-to-people interaction need to be studied in great detail, as here we are observing a “future in the making” (MCKINSEY 2021) that requires both planning and risk containment. The forces, regulatory structures and incentive regimes that drive technological innovation, social dissemination and (political) instrumentalization of the new technologies in Chinese society (BECKERT/BRONK 2018) include in the field of production and services, the possibilities for deploying robot labour and artificial intelligence (AI) as well as the evolution of new “platform economies” that connect supply and demand, and digitally provide services, products, payment, and work opportunities (NOESSELT 2020). As these are also paving the way for fully functional “smart cities”, strong interfaces to other research fields of the RTG will result.

In Korea, a particular proclivity for the future (mostly framed in terms of expectation) shapes the political discourse in general and, in particular, the names the parties give to themselves. A government-funded policy research institute with the acronym STEPI (Science and Technology Policy Institute), founded in Seoul in 2002, is at the forefront of “domestic and international science, technology and innovation research” with future and foresight studies that present science and technology in conjunction with social and political trends. Its research agenda first aimed at “advancing Korea’s national status from an underdeveloped country to a developing and, ultimately, to a developed country through science and technology”. This programme was clearly anchored in the idea of a plannable future and has since then been transformed towards an approach that highlights a future of expectation. This promises to be an important area of research in comparison to the other East Asian countries and their respective policies for innovation. We thus propose the study of the respective topics in Korea in terms of the social discourse on the effects of digitalization and artificial intelligence, and on the practical effects of replacing human labour in eldercare in the entire East Asia.

Both Japan and South Korea have become more and more dependent on inflows of low-wage workers. In view of the intra-regional inequalities, options for the future in many cases constitute the pull factor that motivates people to seek their fortune elsewhere. A dissertation project concerning migration and labour may explore the life aspirations and visions of the future of caregivers in the globalized setting of the cross-border care economy of the East Asian ageing societies and consider their practical options in view of the “infrastructural turn” where governments and brokers are increasingly controlling and commodifying transnational migration (LINDQUIST/XIANG 2017, ASATO 2018, SHIRE 2020).

Possible dissertation themes

  • From the Emergence of Urban Planning Science in Japan (1910s/20s) to the Metabolist Movement (1960s): Western Futures for Japanese Cities, Japanese Futures for Western Cities (SCHMIDTPOTT / SHIRE)
  • Foundations of innovation: Western notions of Freedom-based Creativity vs. Chinese Concepts of State-directed Progress (TAUBE / MOLL-MURATA)
  • Chinese Visions and Configurations of Future-oriented AI-based Governance Models at the National, Regional and the Global Level (NOESSELT / SCHMIDTPOTT)
  • Technology-Induced Conceptions of Future in the Contemporary Korean Discussion (EGGERT / NOESSELT)
  • Women, Robots or Migrants: Imagining the Future of Eldercare and Service Work in East Asia (SHIRE / DE BOER)