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Boom and bust

Will Kherbek
art critic
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piqer: Will Kherbek
Friday, 09 November 2018

Japan: Land Of The Rising Robots

Japan has been mired in a period of economic stagnation for more than two decades. Part of the problem is Japan's rapidly aging population. Countries facing sluggish economies with shrinking populations have frequently turned to immigration, but Japan appears to be trying to solve its problem using robots.

Speaking with Todd Schneider and Gee Hee Hong, the authors of a recent article in the IMF’s journal, Finance and Development, the presenter, Bruce Edwards, poses the question of whether robots will ultimately be able to resolve Japan’s labour shortfall. Schneider notes that Japan has been integrating robots into the workforce at large scale for more than 40 years, and that the country is currently ranked fourth, behind Singapore, Korea, and Germany, in involving robots in the workplace. These robots, Schneider notes, have historically been used in the industrial sector, but this is rapidly changing. Hong speaks of the ways robots have been integrated into Japan’s service economy, citing their role in staffing public transport stations, and recounting her experience of a restaurant that is fully automated from the kitchen to the front of house to the cleaning staff.

The researchers note that though robotics is advancing, and, in doing so, creating new jobs, it is also creating new political questions for Japan, and for the rest of the world. Will the future economy be increasingly post-human, with robots populating offices and high-frequency trading bots driving finance? If so, what will the implications be for income inequality, taxation, and for more nebulous issues like social cohesion and culture? A question going forward is whether societies much more accustomed to historical labour and capital strife will respond as quiescently as Japan to automation, or whether the ease with which Japan is currently integrating robots will continue if the nation’s tax base erodes further. The robots maybe coming, but no one, yet, seems to agree on what that will mean.  

Japan: Land Of The Rising Robots
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