Planetary Navigation

Senior Researcher / Planetary Navigation Group Leader
Masatoshi Funabashi


Planetary Agenda Needs Planetary Navigation:
An Era of Self-Transformation on a Planetary Scale

At Sony CSL, we recognize the Global Agenda as a set of global issues that need to be addressed as common challenges for humanity, such as energy, food, and the environment, and have fostered research that could lead to breakthroughs in these areas.
Since 2008, we have been exploring ways to manage living complex systems in the real world, beyond the traditional elemental reductionist approach, by devising a novel scientific methodology called Open Systems Science.

Now, the Global Agenda is becoming increasingly important, and at the same time, we are required to solve problems from a planetary scale perspective, such as global climate change and biodiversity crisis, which go beyond the benefits of human society. We will formulate a new Planetary Agenda, a plan necessary to build a sustainable society and ecosystem within our finite environmental capacity, and take action to realize it.
In a planetary-scale open system with extremely high degrees of freedom and diversity, only a limited number of objects remain within the realm of human control. The ability to navigate our own civilization in an adaptive direction by developing the technological and social capacities that are characteristic of humanity, is becoming increasingly important in the face of an environment that fluctuates beyond our predictions. We have defined Planetary Navigation as a movement for self-transformation from the fundamental level of civilization toward the resolution of the Planetary Agenda. We will promote the creation of new concepts, basic research and development, and the formation of economic and cultural spheres to realize this movement.

Act Beyond Borders to Transform Planetary Boundaries

What Sony CSL researchers have gained by crossing borders and taking action in various fields is the creation of new academic fields and the augmentation of human capabilities, which contributed to the broadening of the domain that will renew our own perceptions. At the same time, it is expanding into the possibility of positively rethinking even the assumptions of the Planetary Boundaries, which are determined by the way we use technologies, as represented by augmented ecosystems, distributed renewable energy solutions, and alternative frameworks of social and economic systems that internalize environmental goals.

When humanity changes, the environment also changes. The Earth's biological and environmental history has seen organisms successfully adapt to repeated natural cataclysms, and biological evolution has also brought about intermittent changes in the planetary material cycles and climate system. Now, in a global environment that has been drastically altered by humankind, we ourselves are undergoing a sea change that is not an extension of the past, but a major transformation toward the unforeseen future.

The crisis that the new environment brings to the existing civilization has always been an opportunity to create new forms of food, energy, information, communications, and economic & social systems, as we look back from the future.
The Planetary Agenda will be a unique stage for the augmentation of humanity to transcend human conflicts and create the original landscape of our future planet.

The Planetary Navigation Group will maximize the combination of Sony CSL's essential vision and innovative spirit to create sails and compasses for sailing out on the sea of sustainable wealth. We aim to form an essential philosophy and cooperative arch that links the diverse values of stakeholders who support the evolution of civilization in the face of the environmental changes of the Anthropocene.

What is Planetary Agenda?

Population growth and the expansion of human activities in modern society have greatly disturbed the homeostasis of the Earth system, which had been supported by the material cycles and the integrated function of ecosystems. The effects of this disturbance, in the form of climate change and loss of biodiversity, are having a serious impact on the sustainability of our civilization. In recent years, the safe areas of activity in which humans can survive and the acceptable limits of their environmental impact have been called "Planetary Boundaries," and they have been defined on the basis of urgent issues that humanity must tackle in common, such as climate change, maintenance of ecosystem functions and water and chemical cycles, and pollution and compositional changes in the atmosphere and oceans [1][2].

The Planetary Boundaries are an attempt to capture the totality of the diverse impacts on the environment that modern civilization is producing, which include both negative impacts, such as environmental destruction, and positive impacts that contribute to expanding environmental capacity and increasing functionality (Figure 1). In order to reduce negative impacts and increase positive impacts, it is not enough to simply promote technological innovation and change individual consumption habits. It is imperative to achieve a large-scale social transformation in which technology and behavioral change are synergistically combined. This is especially true in the areas of common infrastructure that support society, such as food systems, energy infrastructure, logistics and mobility, urban planning, healthcare, and financial systems, etc. We need to go beyond the framework of modern society and create a new civilizational platform that is consistent with the Earth system. We have identified the Planetary Agenda as a set of issues that are critical to creatively transforming the Planetary Boundaries, extending the functions of human activities to support the Earth system, and fundamentally departing from the conventional way of environmental burdens. Sony CSL will work to solve these issues through both technological innovation and behavioral change through its projects and relevant stakeholders.

Figure 1. Planetary Boundaries and Planetary Agenda
The Planetary Boundaries (left) are defined based on the sum of the negative (center) and positive (right) impacts of human activities on the functioning of the Earth system [2]. The planetary agenda as a civilization-wide transformation goal for a sustainable future (red arrows) includes the proposed goals of zero net carbon dioxide emissions in energy production and consumption [3] and the enhancement of ecosystem functions and services through anthropogenic augmentation of ecosystems [4][5] by the middle of this century.


Methodology for Planetary Navigation

When we declare "research for humanity and this planet," whose planet do we mean by "this planet"? The development of human society to date can be viewed as a history of decentralization of rights and institutions from a state in which wealth and power were often concentrated in the hands of a few ruling classes to a democratic direction toward the optimization of society as a whole. However, the important values that humanity has won, such as basic human rights and a free and equal society, are difficult to maintain without damaging the global environment, based on the current lifestyle at the level of developed countries and global disparities. In order to address the Planetary Agenda, we will need to listen to the voices of non-human life and ecosystems that coexist in the Earth system, and optimize the totality of the environment which includes all living species and material cycles as a premise.

When the survival of humans, their health, and the benefits and externalities of economic activities are extended to the non-human inhabitants of this planet and the natural environment, the future that could be realized will extend far beyond our imagination. Even the most sophisticated scientific and technological simulations will be insufficient to make definitive predictions. However, in order to respect the Planetary Boundaries while imagining a rich array of futures, we need to communicate the various backdrops of the Earth system and the effects of social change over a long period of time and space, without losing our own diversity. The Open Systems Science that Sony CSL has been pursuing, its simulation and visualization technologies, and artificial intelligence that can comprehensively handle real-world big data and social systems in operation, are expected to become a deeper common language in addressing the Planetary Agenda. It goes beyond the simple optimization of conventional top-down control and finding the shortest path, but is a journey of learning from the diversity of the world and utilizing it wisely. A "navigation" methodology is appropriate as we work together to find a broad direction and continue to update a common goal, as the journey will be inherently influenced by the environmental fluctuations and various constraints of available resources (Fig. 2). We have formulated "Planetary Navigation" as a way of navigating the global-scale open complex systems to address the Planetary Agenda, and it is driven by both research & development and social implementation.

Figure 2. Typology of navigation in open complex systems [6]

Left: Rocket-type navigation that relies on self-loaded fuel and straightforward trajectory control based on a closed simple system. Right: Sailboat-type navigation cannot avoid large environmental influences but is possible to navigate with fewer resources based on the smart sensing and harnessing of diverse situations in open complex systems, which is more effective in Planetary Navigation.


Three pillars of Planetary Navigation

For this planet to continue cruising through space with humanity on board, we need to use navigation methodologies in open complex systems to find a direction that synergistically resolves the Limits to Growth that human societies are confronting and the Planetary Boundaries that the Earth system is facing. At the same time, it must be a direction that contributes to resolving the trade-off between the improvement of human quality of life and ecological footprints, and to avoiding social disparities, geopolitical conflicts, ecological regime shifts caused by mass extinction, and climate departure. To this end, we have focused on the three domains as the first areas that can be addressed by the private sector: food production and urban greening, decentralized renewable energy systems and related behavioral changes, and financial systems that appropriately assess contributions to ESG/SDGs. We tackle these domains with our three pillar projects, namely Synecocluture and Augmented Ecosystem, Open Xchange System (OXS), and aSSe22 (read as "assets") projects, and we will work to introduce community-driven science and technologies and to develop expert organizations.

Each of the three pillars also has its own trilemma structure that is difficult to resolve in isolation: food/health/environment for the Augmented Ecosystem, energy & logistics/community/environment for OXS, and financial system/experts/environment for aSSe22. While sharing the environment as a major background, these domains also comprise trade-offs with each other, but they also contain synergistic opportunities for further development of solutions by expanding their spheres of interactions to a larger system (Fig. 3).

For example, replacing existing agriculture and energy infrastructure with Synecoculture and OXS without modifying the conventional gaps between urban and rural lifestyles still involves significant costs. On the other hand, if we promote an open and sparse social structure such as remote working and dispersed settlement, in order to promote positive engagement with ecosystem services and reduce the risk of pandemics and pollution, the nature of the logistic network and the power grid will change dramatically, which has previously been a source of cost in terms of infrastructure installation and food loss. By introducing a combination of Synecoculture and OXS projects in such a future situation, new nexus and benefits can be found for food production and energy, including smarter distribution methods and utilization. Since it is actually difficult to fit into the Planetary Boundaries only by reducing sectoral burdens, such as current efforts of emission reduction, the real question is how to expand the diversity of positive behavioral change to experiment with new lifestyles and social structures as a prerequisite for technology. Only when such diversity of economic activities that substantially contribute to the environment is ensured, the services provided in the financial system by aSSe22 could contribute to the advancement of the ESG and SDGs as the lifeblood of the industry, which will also help improve governance for expert groups including regulators and government agencies in anticipation of change.

Each of the Planetary Agenda is extremely difficult to solve by starting from the status quo and making incremental improvements. It requires a fundamental, transformational change that extends across the social and ecological systems. In order for a small organization like Sony CSL to creatively navigate through this challenging field with the aim of projecting a global positive influence, it is necessary to struggle not only with a high ideology, but also with the practical merits of social implementation. In order to maximize the synergy of the latest technology and individual creativity to dream up the future of this planet, we believe it is important to be sincere in confronting the tensions between long-term ideals and short-term pragmatic interests. Through challenging and transcending the Planetary Agenda, we aim to re-create the value of human beings in the Anthropocene and realize the augmentation of spiritual wealth beyond material fulfillment. We welcome those who share the same will and seek to thrive together in a time of great change.

Figure 3. Planetary Navigation's three-pronged projects and open system that comprises three trilemmas


2022/12/7 Planetary Navigation Group synthesis of off-site meeting at Oiso, Japan
[1] Steffen, W. et al., “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet.” Science 347, (2015)
[3] International Energy Agency (2021), Net Zero by 2050, IEA, Paris
[4] Funabashi, M. Human augmentation of ecosystems: objectives for food production and science by 2045. npj Sci Food 2, 16 (2018). HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1038/S41538-018-0026-4
[5] Ohta, K. and Funabashi, M. poster presentation at the Nature’s 150th Anniversary Symposium “The Future of Japanese Science” held at University of Tokyo, Japan, 2019. HTTPS://WWW.NATUREASIA.COM/PDF/JA-JP/NATURE/NATURE-150/PROGRAM_WEB.PDF HTTPS://WWW.HUMAN-AUGMENTATION-OF-ECOSYSTEMS.NET/BLOG/2019/04/04/POSTER-PRESENTATION-AT-NATURES-150TH-ANNIVERSARY-SYMPOSIUM/
[6] Ohta, K., Suzuki, G., Miyazawa, K., Funabashi, M. “Open systems navigation based on system-level difference analysis – Case studies with urban augmented ecosystems,” Measurement: Sensors, 2022, 100401, ISSN 2665-9174, HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1016/J.MEASEN.2022.100401.