Computers make humans redundant, Japanese edition:
A future in which human workers are replaced by machines is about to become a reality at an insurance firm in Japan, where more than 30 employees are being laid off and replaced with an artificial intelligence system that can calculate payouts to policyholders.
Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance believes it will increase productivity by 30% and see a return on its investment in less than two years. The firm said it would save about 140m yen (£1m) a year after the 200m yen (£1.4m) AI system is installed this month. Maintaining it will cost about 15m yen (£100k) a year.
The move is unlikely to be welcomed, however, by 34 employees who will be made redundant by the end of March.
The system is based on IBM’s Watson Explorer, which, according to the tech firm, possesses “cognitive technology that can think like a human”, enabling it to “analyse and interpret all of your data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video”.
Here’s some background on IBM’s Watson, which made a name for itself in 2011 by mopping the floor with two human champions on Jeopardy!
Japan’s shrinking, ageing population, coupled with its prowess in robot technology, makes it a prime testing ground for AI.
According to a 2015 report by the Nomura Research Institute, nearly half of all jobs in Japan could be performed by robots by 2035.
“Computer systems” would be a more accurate term here than robots.
Sci-fi writer Jerry Pournelle says that half of all jobs in the US could be performed by robots by 2024 or sooner. I don’t know how he arrives at that figure, but if it’s even remotely accurate, we’re going to have an interesting decade. 2024 is seven years from now – less than two presidential terms away…
You’d think that the imminent loss of tens of millions of jobs (about 152 million Americans are currently employed) would command more attention from our political, academic and media elites, but few people seem to be thinking seriously about the problem. That will change, probably rather quickly.
Radical social and economic changes are in the offing. Whether they take the form of a Universal Basic Income, or vast make-work projects to keep people employed, or a ban on new technologies, or total social breakdown, or something else entirely, I don’t know. Possibly the economy will generate huge numbers of useless jobs that add no real value but keep people off the streets. (Arguably this has already happened.) But I doubt even that will be enough to soak up all the armies of people made redundant by computers.