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Japanese company replaces white-collar jobs with AI

Commentary: Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance thinks software will be more productive than mere humans. Enter artificial intelligence; exit 30 workers.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


"Now, about your insurance claim..."

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

They don't take days off. No, not even at weekends.

They never go on strike. Well, perhaps if there's a power outage.

And they never play politics or even talk back to the boss.

Robots are, indeed, the perfect white-collar workers. It's surely no surprise, then, that a Japanese insurance company has just replaced office humans with an artificial superior.

In a press release put out at year's end, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance crows that by introducing artificial intelligence software, productivity will be raised 30 percent.

This means 34 humans will be replaced, says a Thursday report from The Guardian. Yes, each layoff is worth about 1 percent more productivity. And a huge savings on coffee purchasing costs.

At the core of this change is a former winner of "Jeopardy." Fukoku Mutual has used IBM's people-destroying Watson AI software as the basis for its new artificially intelligent operations.

The work being done comprises, in part, the automatic encoding and classification of diseases, disasters, surgery and so on, according to the release.

Of course, this is all about the customer. Says Fukoku, at least. "We will strive to further improve customer service by improving the accuracy of payment assessment," the release reads.

One might also argue that it's all about the company, too. Fukoku will save 140 million yen (around $1.2 million) after it's inserted the AI system, The Guardian reports. The system itself costs around $1.7 million up front, and another $130,000 or so a year to maintain.

Fukoku didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Customers may or may not be happy with the switch. But it can't be easy to be a human who's told he has a machine to thank for his loss of employment. There's surely little consolation in knowing that the machines' work will still be supervised by a human. How long might that last?

How long before the machine bypasses the human, communicates directly with the customer and then sends the top boss an email to ask for a raise (or, at least, for praise)?

Ultimately, these machines will behave like a certain sort of human -- the perfectly obnoxious, always-on-time, absolutely-no-fun, ambitious know-it-all.

And who wants to work with someone like that?