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article imageInsurance firm replaces 34 jobs with AI 'like a human'

By James Walker     Jan 5, 2017 in Technology
An insurance company has replaced almost 30 percent of its workforce with an artificial intelligence system that is capable of calculating insurance payouts and analysing a range of text and media. 34 humans will lose their jobs to the machine.
Japanese firm Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance will introduce the AI later this month, Japan's Mainichi newspaper reported today. It will operate in the payment assessment department and be responsible for determining payment amounts and checking customer case files against their contracts. The robot is capable of identifying special coverage clauses that could otherwise be overlooked.
The AI is based on IBM's Watson technology, a cognitive system capable of thinking "like a human." It is able to process structured and unstructured text, as well as images, video and audio. At Fukoku, Watson will need to read documents that contain information relating to payouts, such as medical certificates, details on hospital stays and lists of expenses that need to be reimbursed.
Fukoku will be laying off workers from a pool of around 47 staff currently on five-year contracts. In total, 34 people will be made redundant by the end of March 2017. Fukoku will be letting the contracts expire their term without renewing them. No replacements for the contracted staff will be sought. In 2015, the company had a total of 131 employees.
Watson is expected to cost around 200 million yen to install and set up. Annual maintenance will then consume around 15 million yen each year. Fukoku expects to save over 140 million yen a year once Watson is operational though. The AI will have paid for itself within two years of being started up.
The news will cause concern over the increasing rise of AI in the workplace. A recent study by the World Economic Forum suggested 5.1 million jobs could be lost to AI in the next five years. The industries most at risk are predominantly positions involving unskilled labour, such as manufacturing and transport.
Machines are also seeing new applications in office environments though, particularly in businesses dominated by calculations and simple reasoning. Insurance is proving to be a good testing ground for AI. According to Mainichi, another Japan-based firm is already using Watson to generate payment assessments but without any job losses. Another is set to begin a trial of the system in March.
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