Japan, one of the world’s fastest-aging societies, expects the number of seniors aged 65 or over to swell from its current rate of 28% of its population to 33% by 2040. In comparison, the U.S. figure is forecasted to be just 20%. With its low birthrate and strict immigration policy, the country has no choice but to battle the twin-headed monster of a huge grey bulge within a plummeting overall population. While the outlook appears grim, the Japanese government is determined to turn this challenge into an opportunity through tech policies as a key pillar of Abenomics.
The Japanese government is positioning Japan as a developed country facing the kinds of serious challenges that other countries will one day also face. It additionally sees the labor shortage as an opportunity to promote the introduction of robots and other AI solutions without provoking the kind of social unrest that might normally result from human workers being displaced. The government has designated the three years from 2018 to 2020 as a revolutionary period during which they plan to implement tax and regulatory reform and make additional funding available to support the development of advanced technology and human resources.
Technological innovation is a key driver of growth in the Japanese economy as well as a potential means of addressing social issues such as the aging population. For example, the number of elderly living alone in underpopulated rural areas is creating strong demand for technological solutions, particularly in the fields of transportation and healthcare. The elderly desperately need help with shopping because stores are few and public transportation is limited, so the government has designated some of these areas as special zones where the deployment of autonomous driving will be trialed. The government aims to start transportation services using autonomous driving by 2020 and demonstrate these during the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Automakers and AI developers will use these deregulated test beds to develop advanced know how that could enable them to take the global lead in autonomous driving.
Meanwhile, Japan’s understaffed healthcare industry is struggling to meet the mushrooming demand for its services. In response, the government is paving the way for big data, robotics and AI to bring advanced and efficient healthcare services up to speed by FY2020. Building an information network among different medical institutions will enable them to share patients’ medical history. The resulting data will also enable patients and their families to keep track of their health status. The easing of restrictions on the provision of online medical services is an additional part of the plan. New technology will enable the provision of an enhanced level of service to a wider range of patients, including those living in remote areas, in timely manner.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” policy has positioned technology, especially AI, to play a crucial role in Japan’s rapidly aging society. Close cooperation among the public, private and academic sectors will ensure the funding, R&D and legal framework to make it all happen. If all goes well, the government also expects Japan to export its advanced hardware and know how to other countries facing similar problems.
By Yuka Tatsuno, Public Affairs Lead, Weber Shandwick Japan