Dr. Hiroshi Komiyama Insights: Chairman of the institute expands on the 3X, mutual sphere, and desirable future world concepts


How can society transform to overcome obstacles and reach a desirable future world?

Fifty years ago, Japan embraced the prospect of rapid growth and set its sights on a bright future. The country has since achieved economic prosperity thanks to a multitude of innovations. With an eye toward the next 50 years, MRI has, in commemoration of its own 50th anniversary, researched in detail the kind of future humanity should aim to achieve by 2070. Already, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked the upheaval of long-established practices in an extremely short period of time.. Issues such as climate change and other infectious diseases are set to cause even worse crises and new societal risks in the future. On the other hand, new possibilities will surface through technology that extends human capabilities and the merging of the virtual and real worlds. In overcoming the challenges at present, the world as a whole must both envision its desirable future and start taking appropriate action. However, the question remains: will humanity really be able to overcome these challenges and make the most of its potential to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future in light of a new era featuring a global population of 10 billion and lifespans of 100 years?

To answer just that, Dr. Hiroshi Komiyama, Chairman of the Institute, dives deep into three key concepts created through MRI’s 50th anniversary research project.

Toward the Next 50 Years: A shift in mindset

Hello, everybody. I’m Hiroshi Komiyama, Chairman of the Institute.

Fifty years from now we’ll reach a new era of 10 billion people and 100-year lives. The question is whether we can ensure that this era provides a sustainable and prosperous world. At MRI, we are convinced that it’s possible, and I’d like to tell you why.

During the 20th century, the benefits of the industrial revolution began to spread to a relatively large number of people. In countries such as Japan, we’ve certainly attained material abundance. We have enough to eat to avoid starvation, and people these days even have their own cars, which was unimaginable 50 years ago. We’ve clearly attained prosperity in a material sense.

On the other hand, humanity has put the planet in a perilous natural state, and disparity is intensifying among economies. It seems that these days many people believe prosperity and sustainability are contradictory concepts. The challenge for us is to work out how we can seek a balance between both over the next 50 years. And we need to first define what we actually mean by prosperity and sustainability. What do they consist of?

Five Goals for the Future World

We believe that, in addition to the aforementioned goals of avoiding starvation and owning material possessions, five other broad goals will be important in the future. These are: health maintenance and harnessing of mental and physical potential; respect for diversity and maintaining relationships; self-actualization and value creation; safety and security; and global sustainability.
Diagram 1: MRI Original Five Goals for the Future World
Diagram 1: MRI Original Five Goals for the Future World
Source: Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc.
It’s likely that new communities and industries will emerge around these goals. In the past, the goal of having food to eat gave rise to farming communities and eventually to the agricultural industry. In the same way, the aim of ensuring the Earth’s sustainability will bring about communities that seek to preserve the Earth and a range of industries with that same goal, spanning the fields of energy, recycling, and water. Likewise, communities and industries will emerge around safety, security, and health. In such a case, it should become possible to create a society that maintains a balance between prosperity and sustainability.

Key Concepts to Achieve Desirable Future World: The right tools in the right spaces

How can this be achieved? We believe the right combination of the 3X and mutual sphere concepts can make it possible. Both 3X and mutual sphere are terms we coined at MRI.

3X refers to changemaking via developments in science and technology. It means the tools—or we could describe them as assets—that humans now have access to for the first time in human history.

The mutual sphere is a space where like-minded people gather and develop communities to create value using the 3X tools. One might call the mutual sphere “the community of the future”.

By combining these two concepts, we can achieve the five goals in unison, creating a world with greater independence and geographical distribution of individuals, while still ensuring coordination among them. Let me explain in a little more detail about 3X and the mutual sphere.

The 3X Concept

3X is comprised of three elements: DX, BX, and CX.

DX refers to the digital transformation. I won’t explain further here as it has become a commonplace term.

BX refers to the bio transformation. The speed and reach of progress in this field is incredible. Advances are being made constantly with neuroscience and interfaces between the human body and machines as prime examples. Likewise, realistic prospects have surfaced for tailor-made medical treatment based on the human genome. It has gradually become possible to augment the five human senses and replace natural substances with alternatives such as cultured meat.

CX refers to the communication transformation. Obviously, the way people communicate with each other has already started to change due to email and the Internet, and there’s certain to be increasingly dramatic change in the future. Avatars, for example, are likely to become a normal part of life.

3X will see continued and rapid progress alongside developments in other fields such as materials and system technologies. I don’t believe that this momentum can be put to halt. We must accept that this scientific and technological progress could even cause tragedy for humankind. For instance, we can’t deny the possibility of a society in which the emergence of a Homo deus, or superhumans, could create shocking disparities. Nonetheless, science and technology also harbor the potential to create a better world, one that is both prosperous and sustainable. How should science and technology be used to achieve this? The best way to predict the future is to create it ourselves–humanity’s resolve is about to be put to the test.

The Mutual Sphere Concept

The mutual sphere is the second MRI proposition. The mutual sphere will constitute the community of the future. I introduced our five broad goals, but these are comprised of a multitude of other sub-goals. The mutual sphere offers a space for those who share such goals to gather, foster communities, and develop industries. Leaders and followers, theorists and those of action, people of all kinds can gather in these communities. In an age when the aim was simply to be able to eat, people nearby shared the same goal, so gathering together was a perfectly natural process—the result: farming communities, an early form of the mutual sphere. At present it is not immediately obvious where those who share common goals are located. And even if we did know, how might collaboration be achieved in the face of geospatial dispersion?

That is where 3X comes in. If full use is made of 3X, the mutual sphere will form in countless situations. Individuals will enjoy the freedom to participate in multiple communities. In fact, preference would shift to having such multiple associations. Furthermore, we will be able to alter the main communities in which we work—those to which we most commit—according to our various life stages, age, and experience. The 100-year life era will require far greater flexibility than today’s society allows. Such flexibility will now be possible thanks to the combination of 3X and the mutual sphere. Individuals will be able to achieve self-fulfillment. This shift will provide the basis for the world as a whole to achieve prosperity and sustainability.

So, how do the communities of the future that I just described relate to the communities of today?

Combining 3X and the Mutual Sphere

The next iteration of community

Looking back, human history has spanned about 10,000 years. For almost all of those 10,000 years the aim for virtually everybody has been to simply avoid starvation. That has motivated people to gather and engage in farming together thus leading to the formation of communities rooted in geographical and familial relationships.

Eventually, the industrial revolution took place, and people could start to contemplate the possibility of having their own possessions. This prompted people to form companies, at which they worked diligently. This created communities in the form of companies. In other words, communities were built by people with the same goals engaging and working together.

This will remain fundamentally the same moving forward. However, the form of community will likely shift to a future model, in other words the mutual sphere making full use of 3X. So, what will become of the communities of today, as centered on work, location, and family? I think they will probably evolve. This could occur in a diverse range of ways, whether through change as a result of incorporating new elements that already exist, or through new elements arising from within existing communities, or even through the merging of existing communities. But whatever the case, I believe that the formation of new communities combined with the updating of those that already exist will jumpstart an explosion in the number of communities.
Diagram 2: The Evolution of Community Forms
Diagram 2: The Evolution of Community Forms
Source: Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc.

An increasingly independent and dispersed yet coordinated society

There are probably two potential paths that humanity could take. One leads to a fragmented society in which connections between people have been lost. In such a society, even if scientific and technological progress results in material abundance and far greater convenience than we have today, individuals would most likely feel unhappy. This is to be avoided. What we’re targeting is a society in which 3X and community together produce unrestricted, or flexible, connections that enable new value to be generated. The key here is the right combination of 3X and the mutual sphere. Fundamentally, what we’re proposing is that everyone coordinates their activities to create a society where both individuals and communities can be independent and geographically dispersed, but can also create new value together. A society that is genuinely prosperous and offers hope for the future. How does that sound?
Diagram 3: MRI’s Proposition for the Future
Diagram 3: MRI’s Proposition for the Future
Source: Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc.
Some of you are probably thinking that this is all just a dream or illusion and that it seems theoretical rather than real. To be sure, we’re describing a dream, but it is by no means an illusion. We have plenty of evidence for this. We’ve looked into a wide range of fledgling examples of this type of approach. I’d like to tell you about three representative examples today.

Case Studies

Case One: Long-Term Health Check-up Program Fosters New Community

The first is the medical check-ups promoting health awareness provided mainly in the Hirosaki region of Aomori Prefecture. For a long time, Aomori has been the prefecture with the shortest life expectancy in Japan, and the prefecture’s residents are desperate to free themselves from this position. To help them achieve this, Hirosaki University stepped up and invested effort in developing a health-oriented computerized platform. Over its 15 years in operation, the platform has accumulated more than 2,000 categories of individual data for more than 1,000 people each year. This big data is extremely powerful, enabling the prediction of lifestyle-related diseases. Take diabetes, for example. It’s possible to predict with an extremely high degree of probability whether or not a particular individual will develop diabetes in three years. Predictions with a correlation coefficient of 0.93 are possible, providing almost total reliability. It’s also possible to predict the type of intervention that would prevent diabetes from developing.

I myself participated in one of these medical check-ups promoting health awareness. The check-ups offer an entertaining, health-oriented event. For example, there’s a machine you can place your hands on and in one minute it measures your autonomic nervous system. It can measure the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems independently of each other. And there’s another machine that you place one hand on, and in 30 seconds it comes up with the amount of green and yellow vegetables you’re eating. It’s a fun experience, and it’s precisely what we mean by BX. As a result of combining BX and DX in this way, new health communities are already forming up in Aomori, and results are already starting to appear; Aomori’s healthy life expectancy is now increasing at the fastest rate in Japan. In due course, Aomori will no doubt free itself from being the prefecture with the shortest life expectancy. This has given the people of Aomori confidence and generated a health-based communities.

Furthermore, this sort of check-up is spreading throughout Japan and the world. It has reached the city of Kyotango in Kyoto Prefecture, Wakayama Prefecture, Okinawa Prefecture, and even as far as Vietnam. In each of these places, health-based communities have come into existence. This is what we mean by independent and dispersed. Moreover, these communities can cooperate via the shared platform. In short, it’s our belief that independent and dispersed yet coordinated communities will form around health and related interests, and a massive health industry is also sure to emerge to serve the common goal of health.

Case Two: Chiemgauer Regional Currency Transforms Community

The second example involves a region about 60 km from Munich in Germany’s state of Bavaria that features a local currency called chiemgauer. This is a community within a developed nation that was suffering marked economic and social decline—an all too common issue. The currency came into being at the efforts of high school students. These students wanted to replace the dilapidated facilities at their high school but lacked sufficient funds. Wondering why their area was so poor despite being in an affluent country, the students started to discuss the issue in school. The cause they identified was the local tendency to save money or invest it in other communities instead of the local community. The students determined that if they could create a system for money to circulate within the community, the community would become more prosperous. It’s the right idea, even from an economics perspective. And in line with this thinking, the high school students started issuing a local currency called the chiemgauer, which is now used even more than the euro within this community. The key factor, or impetus, that made this possible was digitalization, although they had started off with paper currency.

Chiemgauers have a number of characteristics. One is that people can receive them in return for work that benefits the community, such as picking up garbage or providing nursing care. Another is that chiemgauers can be exchanged for euros. When euros are converted to chiemgauers, it is a simple one-for-one swap, but when chiemgauers are converted into euros, a five percent commission is charged. Of this, three percent is returned to the community, and two percent is used for operating costs. And a third characteristic is that chiemgauers depreciate—losing value without use. So, if they are saved up for a long time, they eventually become worthless.

These characteristics, such as asymmetrical conversion to and from euros and depreciation, are possible even with paper currency. But the need to physically stamp the notes provides an operational issue. As a digital currency, all such issues are relieved—all that needs to be done is write some functions into the software. On the user side all that needs to be done is hold one’s smartphone over a payment terminal. In this way, the chiemgauer currency has grown to the extent that it’s used more than euros.

The students were able to replace their high school facilities, and the local environment became cleaner. With money making its way to NPOs and small businesses, the economy flourished and the community recovered its vitality.

In short, combining the mutual spheres with 3X updated and reactivated a system enabling value to circulate within the community. And if we consider the issue from another perspective, the significance of this currency is, I believe, that it offered the answer to an issue. The issue was disparity in the form of decline witnessed in rural a community compared to the cities of an affluent country, Germany, despite constant increase in GDP. This is just one example of disparity that capitalism has not yet managed to resolve.

Case Three: Animal Crossing combines the real and virtual

The third example I’d like to tell you about is Animal Crossing. It is a video game that involves going to a deserted island in the virtual world where players can barter with animals and other players, building a community and developing the island. Because COVID-19 makes it difficult for people to get together, this game has enjoyed huge popularity. One case in point was the democrats’ use of Animal Crossing during the recent presidential election in the United States. Trump held real rallies, but Biden held rallies on Animal Crossing. He even gave speeches and held debates there. He was able to share his passion and create momentum. There can be no doubt that virtual worlds such as this will continue to develop rapidly in the future.

Nonetheless, humans remain at the center of such innovations. Interactions and encounters between people in the real world will remain fundamental to society. As such, we have started an experiment involving temporary relocation of urban employees to rural areas. It’s an attempt to connect cities to the countryside through interaction between people in the real world. The experiment has now been rolled out across the whole of Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south, and it’s been extremely well-received. So, just imagine what might be possible if these real-world interactions and the virtual world of Animal Crossing were combined.

I feel that these days we’re compelled to make either-or choices: the city or the countryside; a stimulating life or a slow life; money or clean air, water, and beautiful views; work or childcare. I believe that if the virtual and real worlds were combined to form a hybrid world, in the era of 100-year life expectancy we could live far more prosperous lives that don’t demand such choices.


That concludes the three examples. We’re convinced that it’s possible to ensure the new era of 10 billion people and 100-year lives provides a sustainable and prosperous society. That means building communities and industries around the five broader goals to create a society that benefits from both prosperity and sustainability. We propose that the key to achieving this is the right combination of 3X and the mutual sphere.