In Japan, reliance on robots grows

By Ritsuko Inokuma, The Japan News/ ANN

Japan — The Henn na Hotel, opened in 2015 in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, has been certified by Guinness World Records as the first hotel to be staffed by robots. Check-in and check-out procedures are handled by robots, including a humanoid bot and two in the shape of dinosaurs. Other robots carry guests’ baggage and clean the windows. General Manager Takeyoshi Oe said, “It’s increasingly difficult to secure young human resources due to the declining birthrate, so the key from now is utilizing robots and AI (artificial intelligence).” A total of 194 robots, of 22 different kinds, work in the hotel’s 114 rooms. Oe said only eight human beings work behind the scenes. The shrinking size of the working generations will affect Japan’s future, and may also shake the foundations of social welfare schemes. The government will compile a concrete plan for work-style reform by the end of this fiscal year. It is urgent to introduce measures such as correcting the practice of long working hours and improving non-regular employees’ working conditions, in order to boost the productivity of limited human resources and maintain the vitality of society. This year, I’m paying special attention to the job sectors of nursing care for the elderly and childcare, in which labor shortages have already become serious social problems.

Securing human resources in these sectors will be the foundation for more active roles for women, and balancing work and family life.

Doing so is expected to contribute to economic growth. Some believe foreign workers should be utilized to cope with labor shortages. In the sector of elderly nursing care, foreign technical interns will arrive in Japan by the end of this year at the earliest. Workplace officials have high expectations, but there are also strong concerns, as the job involves taking care of people. The use of foreign workers is not envisioned for the childcare sector. So how about utilizing robots, as at the Nagasaki hotel?

Half of the Jobs in 10 to 20 Years According to a joint international research released by Nomura Research Institute in 2015, robots or AI programs will be able to take over in about 10 to 20 years about half of the jobs now done by workers in Japan. Robots have appeared that move people into wheelchairs for nursing care workers with back pain, and communication robots that play with children. But nursing care staff and licensed nursery school teachers are among 100 job categories that are seen to be less likely to be taken over by robots or AI. “In general, jobs needing creativity and cooperativeness will be hard to take over,” a research institute official said. Jobs in which workers have to gauge other people’s thinking and consider how to help care recipients grow or become self-reliant certainly need high-levels of creativity and humanity.