Detective Note

Vol.012- Development in Technology and the Changing Role of Light in 2050


Interviewer: Hiroyuki Miyake

ThemeDevelopment in Technology and the Changing Role of Light in 2050

Miyake Today I`d like to discuss the “Role of Light” in the future over a broad span of time.  In interviews conducted with 100 people for the Tokyo Nightscape 2050 Exhibit, predictions for the future, such as fixture modifications, developments in luminous materials, shifts in people’s preferences in brightness were all based on existing parameters.   But I don`t think that is the whole story.  I think the role of light is going to change dramatically.

A poster of the exhibition “Tokyo NIghtscape 2050” held in November, 1998 at Tokyo Design Center


Mende Light has two basic roles.  One is the ability to help us distinguish shapes, read words, and do work.  Second,  light is used to make people feel good, comfortable, or inspired.

Miyake I think the timing and necessity will suddenly arise for changes in the role of visual tasks because of technological revolutions or lifestyle transformations in the future.   For example, task lighting may not be needed for reading while doing work on a computer monitor.

Mende Yes, I suspect that the value of standard brightness or levels of brightness  will wind down and the methods used to judge the value of these standards will change.  Naturally, this will lead to a reduction in the number of fixtures needed and the improvement of each fixture in terms of quality and function.  I have always said that street lamps will eventually all disappear.  Just illuminating the asphalt seems like a real waste of electricity.

Miyake In terms of distribution, light fixtures are used mostly for visual work.  Therefore, most of those fixtures installed now might lose their significance and importance.  Also, if devices such as head mounted displays, used to connect directly to information systems, are introduced to the general consumer, lighting for billboards and signage may not be necessary and can be reduced.  Instead of making big, bright signs, resources could be used to individualize media information on display units for  greater appeal.

Mende Yes, but I think the very convenient future you are forecasting is also dangerous.   For example, I have noticed that some university students are so used to eating an apple cut up for them that they don’t know how to use a knife.   I don’t think I would like to live in a world where I can’t use a pencil or pen every day.   Also, there are many old things what are still necessary and useful.  I don’t think it will be easy to find a replacement for them.   For example,  lots of information is being digitized, but  we haven’t done away with printed books.

Miyake Going paperless has been a popular movement, around since I was little.  But, unfortunately, I think the amount of paper being used has actually increased.  Since 2009, we are finally seeing a downward trend.  I think the condition of the economy had a lot to do with this, but over the last 30 years companies are gradually making the shift.

Mende Of course, machines and technology are developing, but the people that use these machines and technology are also gradually making the shift and become more familiar with this new environment.

Miyake Also, at the moment, they are still just visionary products, but we may not even need our eyes for new technology that will transmit information directly into our brains.   If we reach this point, the purpose of lighting to be used to acquire new information through sight will be lost.  It is possible that lighting might become a hobby of some kind to create atmosphere and ambiance for those that find it fun.   For better or worst, I think in a matter of decades changes are going to shake the foundations of lighting.

Mende I don’t think I like the phrase “for better or worst.”  Even if our senses are substituted with machines and a cyber world, even if I can lay on my own bed and take a virtual vacation to places around the world, I find it boring.  Take for instance, the warm atmosphere created by a single candle flame or looking at the beautiful people that you love through that dim light.  These are sentiments and feelings that shouldn’t be lost even in all the blah-blah-blah of technology.

Miyake Essentially, yes, I think so, too, but  if such overwhelmingly convenient technology becomes available,  it is highly probable that a majority of people will follow the trends.

Mende I think your generation is friendly and easy going.  Really, non-resistant to change is my overall impression.  However, especially, in terms of new technology and cultural revolutions, we should debate the pros and cons and it is highly essential for everyone  to express their individual thoughts and opinions.

Miyake Yes, maybe so.  Although, when new technology comes out I don`t think we should restrict who uses it or how we use it, but  wait for the first results.   I am fundamentally a scientific person, so maybe I’m bias, but  new technology could create new cultural trends or bring happiness to some people.  These are positive points of view that I will continue to speak up for in the name of science.