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Comment on the Kokuryo-Murakami debate

Shumpei KUMON (Professor, Executive Director, GLOCOM)

July 23, 2000

I read the Kokuryo-Murakami debate with great interest, and also went through the Kokuryo paper on the Role of Japan in the IT Revolution. I have found the Kokuryo paper very stimulating and thought-provoking.

His main argument that Japan is relatively strong in integrated systems to economize on energy, space, etc. can be generalized according to a principle (professed by Taichi Sakaiya and reconfirmed by George Gilder) that holds that we generously use abundant resources while economizing on scarce resources.

As a result, I believe that Japan is relatively strong in the matured stage of industrial and technological developments, when skillful human resources and human relations can be utilized to achieve high quality in production and technological applications with human touch and care. On the other hand, the U.S. is relatively strong in the initial, break-through stage of industrial and technological developments, when a small number of selected individuals often make use of abundant natural resources (energy, space, etc.) and man-made machines in a creative fashion.

Since we are likely still to be in the initial break-through stage of the IT revolution, we might have to accept the fact that Japan over all is on the "poor" side of the digital divide from an international perspective.

Of course, one could emphasize Japan's advantage in making use of cellular phones for Internet connections, but current mobile technology is essentially intended for telephone use, and not necessarily developed for the Internet in an optimal fashion. Therefore, mobile systems should be reconstructed specifically for Internet use in order to give Japan a real advantage in the IT era.

So we cannot be too optimistic about Japan's future, at least for the time being, with respect to the digital divide from an international viewpoint.

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