Japanese firm replaces staff with robots

Robot workers

A Japanese insurance firm has announced plans to replace more than 30 employees with artificial intelligence (AI) robots. Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance will make 34 employees redundant by the end of March this year to be replaced by a system based on IBM’s Watson Explorer.

The tech giant claims the Watson Explorer possesses “cognitive technology that can think like a human, allowing it to analyse and interpret all of your data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video”.

According to a report in the Japanese press, several other insurance companies are in the process of introducing AI systems. Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. has already introduced an AI system to process payment assessment alongside human checks. The adoption of the new technology at Dai-ichi however, has not resulted in any major job losses.

Cutting costs

Fukoku Mutual believes the introduction of the AI system will increase productivity by 30% and provide a return on its investment within two years. The system is expected to cost 200m yen (£1.4m) and save around 140m yen (£1m) per year. Maintaining the new system is expected to cost around 15m yen (£100k) per year.

The future?

A 2015 report by the Nomura Research Institute found that robots had the potential to perform nearly half of all jobs in Japan within the next 20 years. Furthermore, a World Economic Forum report from last year predicted that increased use of AI will lead to a loss of over 5 million jobs over the next 5 years in the world’s 15 leading economies.

The Japanese Government is due to trial the use of AI to assist civil servants in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. According to the Guardian, if the trial is successful, then it could be something that is adopted by other government departments.

Japan is renowned for its ability in AI and robotics technology and the country has long been at the forefront of the development in this field. Added to the fact that Japan has an ageing and shrinking population, it is not difficult to see why there are moves being made for robots to fill possible labour shortages in the country. Although, it may be sometime before we see masses of humanoid robots walking the streets as seen in Will Smith’s i, ROBOT.

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