Robots can solve labor woes: Son

SoftBank chief urges nation to create legion of automated workers


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.

  • Demosthenes

    Humanoid robotics can save Japan? Oh my god, I think I’m going die laughing. I think Son has been watching a little too much anime or playing girlfriend simulators. How about Japan just deregulate, and allow foreign businesses and foreign workers here – that’ll be a good start to fixing your woes. I tell you know, you’ll be waiting at least another thirty years for anything resembling human like intelligence to emerge from robotics, and by that time Tokyo will have well and truly been renamed to Dong Jing.

  • Ignatius

    Yeah it´s true that robots can help but to think that robots will save Japan… A country cannot be saved if there are no people to do it. The problem is they will need to bring prople from around the world, a thing that looks like japanese politicians abhors.

  • GBR48

    So for retail, C-3PO, to care for the elderly, Twiki and for Abe’s New Model Army, Terminators?

    If I was an investment banker controlling a few zillion yen in Softbank stock, an awful lot of alarm bells would have just gone off.

  • Demosthenes

    That’s a good point. But, even if you don’t need human level intelligence, I think it’s difficult to get robots with enough flexibility to adapt to new tasks. Rodney Brooks has been working on things like this for a while (Rethink Robotics), and he’s been pitching actual working models at U.S. manufacturers for a few years now. They are brilliant machines but, so far, his ideas haven’t really taken off. The other obvious problem for Son’s idea for Japan is that, even if Japan makes these robots, you can bet the Chinese will be right on their tail. In fact, last time I read through an AI journal the whole thing was filled with research from Chinese academics – Japanese research was nowhere to be seen.