Automation has become part of the global manufacturing line, where robots take on repetitive jobs, like filling boxes or welding a car frame in the same way, day after day. But what if robots could step away from their limited range of tasks, and start to problem solve in complex operational situations, like spotting a malfunction on the assembly line or identifying a better compound for a part? And how could robots enabled with "deep learning" – where algorithms learn from large amounts of data collected via experience – begin to share insights with other robots, to increase innovation in all kinds of settings, from factories to self-driving cars on the road to early cancer detection and drug discovery in hospitals? These questions are the focus of Preferred Networks, a cutting-edge artificial intelligence company founded in 2014. The Tokyo-based firm, which is worth roughly $2 billion, according to CB Insights, is a symbol of Japan's sweeping strategic innovation initiative, where AI and robotics are viewed as keys to both solving social issues and achieving new economic growth.
As a forerunner facing various social challenges, including addressing the aging population, as well as environmental and energy issues, Japan is poised to find solutions and share them with other countries that are also expected to be confronted with these complex problems. Through hosting the upcoming G20 summit in Osaka in June, the country will promote further cooperation among all relevant stakeholders, both government and non-governmental, toward a future society that realizes both economic growth and solutions for such issues. The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, will be a timely occasion for world leaders to address these growing challenges as the conference aims to delve into the topics to "shape a new framework for global cooperation," preparing for the arrival of "Globalization 4.0" driven by the "Fourth Industrial Revolution." Assuming the G20 presidency immediately after the Buenos Aires summit in December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated Japan would seek to realize a "human-centered future society," promoting discussions in cross-cutting areas. "Japan is determined to lead global economic growth by promoting free trade and innovation, achieving both economic growth and reduction of disparities, and contributing to the development agenda and other global issues with the SDGs (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) at its core," Abe said. "In addition, we will lead discussions on the supply of global commons for realizing global growth such as quality infrastructure and global health," he continued.
Japan's graying society will require more investment in technologies such as artificial intelligence and robots to make up for a decline in the labor force and its effect on economic growth, according to a government report released Friday. The world's third-largest economy is on a firm footing, the white paper said, having enjoyed a moderate recovery for the past five and a half years under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policies, including aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan. "Corporate profits are at record highs, labor and income conditions are improving, and increased income is leading to an expansion in consumption and investment, showing that a'virtuous economic cycle' is beginning to take hold," said the annual white paper on economy and fiscal policy. But the report warned that the country is also experiencing its worst labor shortage in a quarter century, and some industries such as transportation services and construction may already be seeing earnings suffer as a result. "Amid an aging population, (Japan) needs to drastically strengthen the supply side of the economy in order to deal with the labor shortage and realize sustainable growth," it said.
Japan's aging population will require more investment in technology such as artificial intelligence and robots to make up for a decline in the labor force for economic growth, according to a government report released Friday. The world's third-largest economy is on firm footing, having enjoyed a moderate recovery for the past five and a half years under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policies including aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan. "Corporate profits are at record highs, labor and income conditions are improving, and increased income is leading to an expansion in consumption and investment, showing that a'virtuous economic cycle' is beginning to take hold," said the annual white paper on the economy and fiscal policy. But the report warned that the country is also experiencing the worst labor shortage in a quarter century, and some industries such as transportation services and construction may already be seeing earnings suffer as a result. "Amid an aging population, (Japan) needs to drastically strengthen the supply side of the economy in order to deal with the labor shortage and realize sustainable growth," it said.
Japan's Preferred Networks Inc. has only one publicly available product, a whimsical application that uses artificial intelligence to automate the coloring of manga cartoons. Yet the four-year-old firm has become Japan's most valuable startup, with a venture capital funding that priced it at more than $2 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. Toyota Motor Corp., its biggest backer, handed over $110 million on a bet its algorithms will help them compete with Google in driverless cars. Last February, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe posed for pictures with the firm's two young founders at his office, where they were awarded a prize for promising new ventures. What sets Preferred Networks apart from the hundreds of other AI startups is its ties to Japan's manufacturing might.
Faced with the worst labor shortage in decades, Japanese service companies are finally turning to labor-saving technology, an investment that could lift the sector's woeful level of productivity and allow them to raise wages. While Japan's manufacturers are renowned for deploying advanced robotics, most domestic-focused services companies fell behind in information technology investment, put off by a stagnant economy, restrictive labor rules and a shrinking domestic market. But as the workforce declines and the nation ages, businesses in areas like nursing and retail have found it harder to attract and keep staff. As Partners Co. is among companies looking to software for a solution. It plans to spend about ¥300 million ($2.7 million) to install new technology at its 15 nursing homes in and around Tokyo to make life easier for staff and residents.
TOKYO Desperate to overcome Japan's growing shortage of labor, mid-sized companies are planning to buy robots and other equipment to automate a wide range of tasks, including manufacturing, earthmoving and hotel room service. According to a Bank of Japan survey, companies with share capital of 100 million yen to 1 billion yen plan to boost investment in the fiscal year that started in April by 17.5 percent, the highest level on record. It is unclear how much of that is being spent on automation but companies selling such equipment say their order books are growing and the Japanese government says it sees a larger proportion of investment being dedicated to increasing efficiency. Revenue at many of Japan's robot makers also rose in the January-March period for the first time in several quarters. "The share of capital expenditure devoted to becoming more efficient is increasing because of the shortage of workers," said Seiichiro Inoue, a director in the industrial policy bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, or METI.