This is what Japan thinks about AI

From bullet trains to futuristic restrooms, Japan has a reputation for being bullish on new tech. But what about AI?

The recent rise of AI tools such as ChatGPT has sparked debate around the world, with some praising AI’s potential for boosting efficiency, and others raising concerns about its potential effects on human society.

To understand Japan’s perspective on AI, Rakuten’s consumer research arm Rakuten Insight quizzed some 900 people aged 20-69 in March 2024. The majority of respondents revealed that they felt positive about AI tech – although some remain concerned.

AI saves time, boosts efficiency

An impressive 70.8% of respondents had a very positive or somewhat positive outlook of AI becoming part of everyday life. This view was highest among those in their 40s (77.6%).

When asked about their overall impressions of AI, 43.1% responded that AI can allow work to proceed more efficiently. This was followed by AI can quickly provide desired information (35.7%) and AI can lead to new business opportunities (29.6%). However, concerns about security risks like AI malfunctions or hacking increased among respondents in their 40s and above.

Among those with a positive view of AI, the top reason cited was for its potential to reduce time burdens (53.8%). This was followed by AI’s ability to reduce human-caused mistakes like data entry errors, grammatical errors, or spelling mistakes (47.3%), and to detect things humans might overlook (37.8%). Notably, as age increased, so did the percentage of respondents who saw AI’s value in detecting oversights.

Asked what types of work are better suited for AI over humans, inventory management (53.7%) topped the list, followed by accounting (52.3%) and document preparation (52.1%).

Conversely, final decision making (56.4%) was seen as better handled by humans, along with medical procedures (49.9%) and hiring (47.7%). This outcome suggests a division in which AI is seen to excel at rule-based management and processing, while humans are better equipped for crucial decisions requiring flexible judgment.

Anticipation mixed with unease

The most common feelings towards AI were anticipation (31.4%), followed by curiosity (21.0%) and unease (13.4%), revealing a blend of excitement and apprehension. The degree of skepticism increased with age, with feelings of doubt rising among those in their 40s (7.8%), 50s (10.1%), and 60s (13.6%).

In keeping with overall sentiments, over 70% felt AI would have a positive impact on their careers, while 24.8% anticipated a negative career impact. Concerns about being replaced by AI were present but did not dominate, again with 24.8% being worried to some degree and 44.4% not being worried. This worry was highest among those in their 20s (33.0%) and 40s (30.1%).

When it came to proactively incorporating AI into one’s work, 40.2% were eager to do so, with those in their 40s being the most enthusiastic age group at 45.9%. Overall, just 16.6% were disinclined to adopt AI.

A mission of AI empowerment

Rakuten has been proactive about employing AI for business purposes – in fact, this round of research marked the first time that Rakuten Insight has employed generative AI to build its question sheet.

In fall 2023, Rakuten partnered with ChatGPT creators OpenAI, who recently opened a new office in Tokyo. The company marked the occasion with a special event for employees at Rakuten’s headquarters, where they explored the many ways AI tools could help empower clients.

Meanwhile, Rakuten has also announced Rakuten AI for Business, a platform to empower business operators of all sizes with AI tools. Rakuten’s AI research is also making waves: Last month saw the unveiling of a suite of Rakuten-built Large Language Models (LLMs) with chart-topping performance in Japanese.

The recent research reveals that some trepidation exists around security and human replacement. But in both Rakuten’s AI empowerment philosophy and the mindset of the Japanese populace, there is a prevailing sense of optimism and openness to AI’s involvement in both daily life and the workplace.

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