Asia

Japanese insurance firm replaces 34 staff with AI

  • 5 January 2017
  • From the section Asia
A robot holds a newspaper during a demonstration during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 22, 2016. Image copyright AFP
Image caption The World Economic Forum has said robots and AI could replace 5.1 million jobs by 2020

Science fiction has long imagined a future in which humans are ousted from their jobs by machines.

For 34 staff at a Japanese insurance firm, that vision just became a reality.

Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance is laying off the employees and replacing them with an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can calculate insurance payouts.

The firm believes it will increase productivity by 30%.

It expects to save around 140m yen (£979,500 / $1.2m) a year in salaries after the 200m yen AI system is installed later this month.

Maintenance of the set-up is expected to cost about 15m yen annually.

Japan's Mainichi reports that the system is based on IBM Japan Ltd's Watson, which IBM calls a "cognitive technology that can think like a human".

IBM says it can "analyze and interpret all of your data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video".

Fukoku Mutual will use the AI to gather the information needed for policyholders' payouts - by reading medical certificates, and data on surgeries or hospital stays.

According to The Mainichi, three other Japanese insurance companies are considering adopting AI systems for work like finding the optimal cover plan for customers.

A study by the World Economic Forum predicted last year that the rise of robots and AI will result in a net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years in 15 leading countries.

The 15 economies covered by the survey account for approximately 65% of the world's total workforce.

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