H. Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.
@hmikitani_e

I recently heard some interesting news about perfect pitch. People used to think that only small children were able to acquire perfect pitch through training. But new research has shown that with AI-based training, even adults can achieve it. In other words, computers are now encroaching on something once thought to be the exclusive domain of human “talent.”

So, could computers make music? I’d say yes. The economist Joseph Schumpeter once defined innovation as “new combinations.” New combinations of existing technologies and ideas would generate new innovations, he said.

AI will surely come up with new combinations of sounds that human beings have not. The same will happen in other fields, such as cooking and fashion. New combinations will give rise to new worlds of music, food and fashion, of the kind that humans have never imagined.

One thing is for sure: No matter how far AI advances, it alone will never change the world. What will change the world are human beings using AI.

Does this mean the music, food and fashion created by people will become useless or worthless? Not at all. Those things will always have something that their AI-generated counterparts do not, and that is a story – the story of the individual behind the music, the story behind the music’s creation and more.

How will AI change our world? We hear this question a lot these days. One thing is for sure: No matter how far AI advances, it alone will never change the world. What will change the world are human beings using AI. And we need to think deeply about how they do that.

Consider e-commerce. At our Japan marketplace, Rakuten Ichiba, we have e-commerce consultants (ECCs) that support our merchants. I suspect the more simple services offered by ECCs – teaching merchants how to use a computer or how to set up a webpage – will soon be handled by AI.

But that is not to say we will no longer need ECCs.

ECCs in the age of AI will work to understand merchants and the customers that interact with them at a deeper level, and offer more creative suggestions than ever. I expect ECCs will become something akin to “community facilitators.” They will do the jobs that only people can.

In this way, AI can help us continue to pursue the goal we have had from our foundation, and that is to empower people and society. We are not in this business simply to make money – we want to grow in harmony with the stores and communities with which we work. As the work of ECCs evolves and as technologies improve, we will achieve even more in empowering stores, collaborating with local governments and revitalizing regional areas.

This approach might be more laborious than a business strategy focused simply on our company’s own efficiency, but I believe it is more sustainable in the long term. I want to create an internet that makes use of AI, but that is still human at its core.

By the time AI permeates every aspect of our lives, the average lifespan in Japan might be 120 years… Technology will emerge that people can use regardless of their age, causing demand for services to grow.

We often hear that AI will lead to jobs disappearing. To an extent, that may be true – just as it was in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, when automation led to the disappearance of many professions. However, the overall demand for labor has not declined, and it won’t in the future. As economic systems change, new types of jobs emerge.

For example, by the time AI permeates every aspect of our lives, the average lifespan in Japan might be 120 years or more. This will lead to new jobs in nursing and social welfare. Technology will emerge that people can use regardless of their age, causing demand for services to grow. The “digital divide” will become a thing of the past.

At the same time, globalization will not just be a matter concerning large companies and academics. The Trump administration has declared its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but even if it doesn’t sign that trade agreement, globalization will progress and borders will come down.

And the more that happens, the more important it will be to reappraise what it is that makes individual communities special. I think we will come to place greater emphasis on strong person-to-person bonds.

If it is used well, AI can help with that. Right now, Rakuten is recruiting fantastic engineers from around the world who are creating the new AI services of the future. Stores and local communities will be able to connect even more effectively with both their own local communities and the rest of the world. And it will be Rakuten’s platform that makes that possible.