IBM Watson replaces 34 employees at Japanese insurance firm

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It has been less than two weeks since a White House report warned that automation has the potential to disrupt millions of jobs, and this week a Japanese insurance firm proved how close that future might be.

According to Japanese news publication Mainichi Shinbun (via Quartz), Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance Co. will be replacing roughly 30 percent of the employees in its payment assessment department with an artificial intelligence system powered by IBM Watson. Fukoku Mutual plans to lay off 34 employees by the end of March, and the company will not renew contracts for an additional 13 employees once they expire.

The new AI will determine how much insurance should be paid out for each claim based on a number of factors, including the insured’s medical history, the procedures they have undergone, the doctor’s diagnosis and so on. According to Mainichi Shinbun, the types of cases the AI would handled totaled around 132,000 in 2015.

Fukoku Mutual will still retain around 84 payment assessment employees who will ultimately approve or reject the AI’s recommendations, so no one needs to worry about their claims getting rejected by a robot … yet.

The company seems optimistic about the future of AI in the insurance industry, and it plans on investing roughly $1.7 million in installing the AI system and an additional $128,000 per year in maintenance costs. The company says that the AI will both reduce operating costs and while improving productivity by up to 30 percent, making its high costs worthwhile.

Mainichi Shinbun notes that several other Japanese insurance companies are already using IBM Watson or other AI systems for a number of purposes. In addition to payment processing, other companies also use AI to recommend policies to potential customers based on their unique requirements.

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