The Yomiuri Shimbun How can cutting-edge technologies, which continue to evolve, be used to improve people’s lives? Wisdom must be exercised for technological innovation to help society survive with a falling population.
With the declining birthrate and aging of society progressing, Japan’s productive population is expected to be 69 million in 2030, down by 7.5 million over 15 years. A labor shortage has become more serious year by year, making business management circumstances tougher.
Japan’s labor productivity per hour is among the lowest of major countries. Furthermore, if the population continues to shrink, the nation cannot avoid a further decline in its international competitiveness.
Artificial intelligence (AI), robots and the internet of things (IoT), which connects all sorts of things through the internet, are all technologies that have come under the spotlight as keys to overcoming such challenges.
These cutting-edge technologies help make up for companies’ manpower shortages. Increased profits due to improved work efficiency could lead to pay increases and raise hopes for boosting consumer spending.
It is essential for the government to facilitate AI taking root in society, such as by developing a new legal framework and easing regulations.
For example, laws to deal with accidents and damage involving self-driving vehicles and other AI-equipped products remain to be seen.
The United States and China have taken a lead in AI development with their capital strength and rich human resources. Japan also needs to create an environment in which it will not miss out in the competition.
Deal with side effects
It is a source of concern that many people argue the sophistication of AI and robots could not only eliminate the labor shortage but also result in increasing unemployment in the future.
According to a joint survey by Japan and Britain, half of current jobs are anticipated to be replaced by AI and robots in the next 10 to 20 years.
AI technology for automatically translating foreign languages has already been used by tourist facilities, local governments and other entities. Banks have also taken advantage of AI to propose their products.
It is assumed that more and more cash registers at supermarkets and reception work at hotels, among other functions, will become unmanned in the next several years.
“Investment in humans” will be vital. Shifting human resources to new growth areas is urged. To deal with the situation flexibly, it is crucial for companies to enhance efforts such as training their employees.
However, there has been a trend of companies spending less on employee training since the 1990s. Establishing a system in which members of society can acquire new skills and brush up their knowledge at universities, vocational schools and other places — instead of leaving such work to companies — is also a challenge.
Experts have various views about whether AI can equal human thinking in the near future.
Efforts in government, industrial and academic spheres are urged to fully analyze, at least, the side effects of technological innovation such as unemployment and consider countermeasures.