Message from the Director

Hideaki Shiroyama, Director, Institute for Future Initiatives, the University of Tokyo

The Institute for Future Initiatives (IFI) is a research institute that proposes designs for future society through the collaboration of diverse researchers and stakeholders in order to address the challenges of the modern world.

At universities, research is conducted on the basis of spontaneous curiosity. For this reason, questions have been raised concerning whether research conducted at universities remains in the realm of research by researchers, for researchers, and whether there is a gap between this research and the real world. To answer such questions, the IFI was established as a think tank at the University of Tokyo in 2019. It aims to serve as a channel that connects universities with society by bringing together researchers in various fields to collaborate across disciplines so as to address the challenges faced by the modern world and provide feedback to society on choices for the future. By engaging in dialogue with governments, corporations, and civil society at large, we will create a process in which the proposed choices will realize policy and social change. This is the mission of the IFI.By addressing a variety of specific issues, we intend to develop methodologies for societal transitions using the university as a venue. These activities could also provide exceptional ideas to stimulate the development of basic research in various fields, and are expected to contribute to the development of basic research.

There are a variety of global issues to be pursued, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which consists of 17 goals, is a checklist that provides a comprehensive view of these issues. Specifically, the SDGs cover a wide range of issues, such as fragmentation, as seen in the escalation of regional conflicts and geopolitical confrontations; health security, which includes not only medical health but also the balance between social and economic activities; Anthropocene issues related to the relationship between humans and the environment; and issues related to the relationship between humans and technology, such as the use of digital technology and AI.

What does it mean to “envision the future”? As the concept of “path dependence” illustrates, the future is defined by the past or by history. For example, social infrastructures such as energy systems and medical systems have this distinct inertia as socio-technical systems that integrate technology and social institutions, and much of the evidence that exists in the world is about this kind of past. On the other hand, as illustrated by the concept of the “self-fulfilling prophecy,” the future depends on how people think about it. In this sense, values and perceptions are the drivers of future change. In order to envision the future, we need to methodically examine the historical narratives and cultivate a flexible imagination to discover signs of indications for the future and consider various scenarios. Such a way of envisioning the future is also an important part of the methodology of societal transition. The University of Tokyo is promoting effective collaboration for the future of humanity and the planet on a university-wide level. By collaborating with the individual activities of various departments and organizations within the University of Tokyo, the IFI hopes to become a hub or catalyst to achieve concrete results for collaborative creation for a better future society.

In today’s world, countries tend to prioritize defending their own interests rather than responding to cross-border issues, which leads to the emergence of support for policies that are divergent from international cooperation. We aim to become a core center for such university activities. In 2020, the Center for Global Commons (CGC)—in collaboration with major overseas think tanks—was established as a research center to study the state of governance in order to secure the commons at the global level in terms of issues such as the climate system and biodiversity. In the future, it will be necessary to strengthen the ties between universities and society in various fields, and to concretely demonstrate that it is possible to provide solutions to the problems facing the modern world based on academic knowledge.

We earnestly hope you will participate in the activities of the IFI and join our network.