AI Love? Fertility, Computers and Japan’s Answer to Its Declining Population.

For the last few decades, Japan has been the world’s largest ageing country according to The Economist. The nation’s population began to shrink in 2011 and risked placing the nation into a state of economic and demographic decline. Throughout the Abe administration, this trend continued with the nation’s population reducing by a million between 2015 and 2020. However, under the new government of Yoshihide Suga, they aim to reverse this trend and steady Japan’s population.

This comes as the Japanese government is using a new method to increase the nation’s low birth rate – consisting of the funding and promotion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to produce a matchmaking system. The government hopes it will help citizens find love and remedy their population problems.

Despite its infancy, local government officials have already started trying to use AI systems to help pair people. However, they are generally too simple and have only been relying on criteria – such as age and income – to produce limited results.

The new AI systems and funding from the government will give access and approval to match people with prospective partners via these methods.

According to The Independent, the number of births in Japan reached the country’s lowest annual figure on record in 2019 (865,000 births) – a reduction of 5.8% from the previous year. A drop in the number of marriages and a rise in the average age of marriage amongst Japanese people had also occurred.

As a result, a significant number of Japanese prefectures have rolled out various sophisticated AI systems, which take additional factors such as values and personal hobbies into account. This is in an attempt to counteract these areas’ declining birth rates. However, such systems are expensive and untested en masse.

An example of this is Saitama, a prefecture north of Tokyo. The local government spent approximately 15 million yen (£107,000) in 2019 and only saw twenty one couples getting married as a result of the governments actions. From this, the government has said it will guarantee roughly 60% of the costs for more complex AI systems. This is out of a possible two billion yen fund that the government is requesting to fight the nation’s declining birth rate in its fiscal budget.

It is therefore hoped that such actions will reverse the continuing trend of population increase. If these new initiatives are successful, Japan’s population is expected to reduce from 127 million to around 88 million by 2066 according to government statistics.

The former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has in the past described the ultra low birth rate as being a ‘national crisis’ and had promised a series of political reforms which would target the factors needed to encourage couples having more children.

However, the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has only worsen the nation’s populations problems, with pregnancy and marriage figures falling even further this year. This comes as official data showed the number of notified pregnancies in the three months leading to July had fallen by 11.4% when compared to the previous year, while marriages over the same period dropped by 36.9%.

It is suspected that the coronavirus has made many people worried about having children and about the economic downturn that the virus has presented. Overall, the jury is still out on whether AI can fix Japan’s demographic decline. What will be interesting is how the rest of Japanese society reacts to such actions from the government.

Featured image credit: “View from Tokyo Skytree” by Kinchan1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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