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.
Somewhat overshadowed in recent years by China's rise as a regional and global power, Japan still extends considerable influence as a world leader in various fields, including investment, policy management and trade, according to experts who gathered at a Tokyo conference earlier this week. But at the same time, Japan lags behind other countries in incorporating into everyday life technological innovations, such as artificial intelligence and financial technology to improve efficiency, they said. "We want to talk about Japan as a role model, not Japan following, not Japan copying, but Japan actually and constructively led by the young generation," said Jesper Koll, who heads Wisdom Tree Japan KK, a Tokyo-based exchange-traded fund sponsor, in the opening session of the annual G1 Global Conference organized at Globis University on Sunday. Experts shared insights in a session titled "Can Japan be a Role Model for Global Economic Prosperity and Stability?" Hiromichi Mizuno, chief investment officer at Government Pension Investment Fund said the country can show leadership in the field of investment by educating on responsible investment, a concept that gained traction after the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 that triggered the global financial crisis, exemplifying the long-term failure of a capitalism that emphasizes the single-minded pursuit of short-term corporate profits.
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.