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Japanese Firm Replaces Over 30 White-Collar Workers With One Robot

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    An insurance firm in Japan is laying off more than 30 employees in favor of an artificial intelligence system.

    For ¥200 million ($1.7 million), Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance installs the system based on IBM’s Watson Explorer this month. By the end of March, 34 white-collar workers from its payment assessment department will pack their stuff.

    The doomed workers come from a pool of 47 staff members on five-year contracts. Overall, the department had 131 employees as of March 2015.

    Fukoku claims it will save ¥140 million ($1.2 million) each year by firing the 34 workers. The system, maintained for ¥15 million ($130,000) a year, is expected to increase productivity by 30%.

    Image: IBM
    Image: IBM

    According to The Mainichi, IBM Japan described it as a “cognitive technology that can think like a human” and “can analyze and interpret all of your data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video.”

    It will read medical certificates and documents and collect information needed to make payouts, such as medical histories, duration of hospitalizations and surgical procedures. It will also check cases against insurance contracts to determine any special coverage clauses.

    Fukoku’s move isn’t entirely surprising. In 2015, the Nomura Research Institute, a think tank and systems integrator in Japan, reported that 49% of all jobs in the country could be carried out by AI in 2035.

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