Business / Corporate

Robots can solve labor woes: Son

SoftBank chief urges nation to create legion of automated workers

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Employing all-purpose robots endowed with artificial intelligence as a workforce in the manufacturing industry is the solution to staving off any impending labor shortage in Japan, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said Tuesday.

“Technology can even solve the labor population problem,” Son said during an event held in Tokyo for SoftBank’s corporate customers.

“What is a solution (for the issue)? My answer is robots,” the vocal entrepreneur said.

Son said that because Japan has a smaller working population with high wages, many people assume it has lost its position as one of the globe’s top manufacturers and that its economy is stagnating amid the rise of nations such as China.

China, Son said, has a manufacturing industry workforce of about 70 million, while Japan has about 7 million workers with monthly wages of about ¥250,000 — more than three times that of China.

To cover any labor shortage, Japan could create all-purpose artificial intelligence robots and use them to do a variety of jobs beyond what the currently used industrial robots can do, he said.

With the cost of labor for robots extraordinarily cheap, and since they can work nonstop for 24 hours, a single robot is equal to three human workers, Son said. He suggested that Japan build 30 million such robots — the equivalent of 90 million human workers — in order to create a total workforce of almost 100 million strong when combined with the current number of workers.

If one robot that can work for five years is manufactured at a cost of ¥1 million each, its monthly wage would be ¥17,000 — far below the average, Son said.

His remarks come after the telecom giant announced that it would begin selling humanoid robots to consumers next February.