Will robots replace humans in their jobs one day? The manufacturing sector has certainly seen this happen over the past decade. How about other desk-bound jobs -- are they at threat from computers and the creeping advancement of artificial intelligence (AI)? The answer is apparently yes, as 34 workers at insurance firm Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance in Japan found to their chagrin. IBM’s Watson Explorer AI has made them redundant for a very simple reason -- the life insurance firm has reason to believe that with the Watson Explorer AI in place, productivity in the company will be able to increase by a whopping 30%.
Taking into consideration that the life insurance business runs on a predetermined margin, where some of the policies might have razor thin margins, every single advantage counts. After all, life insurance companies are just like any other business -- they would like to make money, and are not running a charity. The Watson Explorer AI’s task in the firm is to calculate payouts to policyholders, something that Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance’s human staff has been doing all this while. In fact, with a projected increase of 30% in its productivity, the insurance firm believes that they will obtain a return on their investment in under two years. After all, money talks: to be able to save approximately $1.23 million in taxes annually is certainly well worth the initial $1.73 million installation fee, not to mention around $123,000 in maintenance fees each year.
While the company’s top brass will be pleased with this move, and so too the shareholders, the only ones who would resist this move would be the unfortunate 34 employees who will be released at the end of March 2017, and their respective families, too. After all, being told that you do not have a job is always one of the hardest things in life to swallow, and knowing just how much value work has in Japanese culture, it could lead to worse issues later on.
IBM claims that their Watson Explorer AI has the ability to “think like a human”, and hence, allowing it to “analyze and interpret all of your data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video”. Reading tens of thousands of medical certificates while taking into consideration just how long each individual hospital stay is, the medical history involved as well as surgical procedures done (if any), it will be able to calculate payouts faster than ever before. In fact, a 2015 report by the Nomura Research Institute cited that close to 50% of all jobs in Japan might be robot-driven by the time 2035 rolls around, which is a scary thought, don’t you think so? Dai-Ichi Life Insurance too has jumped aboard the Watson bandwagon when it comes to assessing payments, and thankfully no one has been told to leave just yet. As for Japan Post Insurance, the company has been sniffing around concerning a similar setup.
If there is one consolation from all of this, at least Fukoku Mutual does not have to worry about Watson Explorer committing ‘karoshi’, which is Japanese for ‘death by overwork’. Even then, it would be scant consolation as life is far more than numbers. If Fukoku Mutual has been able to rake in the money all this while, why not maintain the 34 employees as opposed to having a nicer looking balance sheet for everyone to look at? It is not as though the company needs to stop bleeding money in the first place.