Japan – A rapidly shrinking and aging workforce is one of the Japan’s foremost concerns. In 2016, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that this actually incentivises Japan to boost productivity through advances in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence. But what are the potential ramifications of an increased reliance on robots and AI-supported labour, and what does Japan need to do to prepare its workforce for this future? To address these questions, the Kwansei Gakuin University Graduate School of Policy Studies Research Consortium hosted its 19th annual symposium, titled “How Will AI Change Society?” on 26 May 2017.

The symposium gave KGU graduate students a platform to present their own research on a variety of topics, such as potential ways to revitalise Japan’s rural communities. Presentations were also given by the representatives of companies with membership in the Research Consortium.

Special guest speaker Masaya Mori, global head of the Rakuten Institute of Technology – the dedicated research arm of Rakuten Inc, one of the world’s leading Internet service companies – approached the issue of AI from an industry standpoint, and spoke about how businesses are now using AI deep learning to understand and adapt to the preferences of a globalised user base. As more and more jobs are rendered unnecessary by technological advances, Mr Mori noted, it will be necessary to forge new relationships with AI and look for ways to combine irreplaceable human knowledge and creativity with the processing power of machines.

To close the event, there was a panel discussion led by faculty members at the KGU Graduate School of Policy Studies. The panel examined AI advances from the perspectives of social psychology and environmental economics, and reframed the symposium’s central question as “How should people live in an AI society?” Among other topics, the panel discussed how society might change as AI continues to become increasingly ingrained in everyday life, as well as potential policies that could be enacted to counteract jobs becoming obsolete, such as universal basic income.

For almost two decades, the Research Consortium at KGU has served as a platform for collaborative policy research between Kwansei Gakuin University and its domestic and international partners in industry, government and academia. Previous symposium themes include urban planning and disaster response, energy sustainability and the coming global water crisis. As the Research Consortium approaches its 20th anniversary, it will continue to pursue solutions to the pressing social issues that will confront future generations in Japan and the world at large.