Japan’s AI matchmaking

Japan hopes artificial intelligence (AI) matchmaking services will help to lift birth rates and remedy a shrinking population

Photo by jaypee chronicles on Flickr.

— 2 minute read — By Safia Bartley

As birth rates continue to fall around the world and average female fertility rates decrease year on year, up to 23 nations are set to see their populations halved by the year 2100. Although birth rates are dropping, the global life expectancy is rising, meaning populations are becoming undesirably old and unproductive.

Experts predict that Japan, one of the countries facing the decline, will see its population fall from a sizeable 128 million to less than 53 million by the end of the century. Recognising it is not any one gender’s fault, the country is trying to tackle the issue by introducing government-funded AI matchmaking services.

Although there are currently a number of human-run matchmaking services in Japan, in 2021 the Japanese Government will allocate 2bn yen (£14m) to help support AI specific services, as they feel it will offer a more sophisticated and accurate way to encourage romantic relationships and boost the number of children being born each year.

Japan’s steady decline comes from the fact that both men and women are no longer focused on intimate relationships. Since 2013, there has been a growing number of young men with no interest in a sexual relationship with a ‘real’ woman. Games like ‘Love Plus’ have created a virtual community, where men have relationships with virtual women, which some consider easier than having a human girlfriend. Comparatively, more women are now career-orientated, and face less pressure to become a mother or live a domesticated life.

The government, who are confident in their proposed plans, have come under mass scrutiny from many Japanese citizens who feel there are better ways to approach the issue. Doctor Sachiko Horiguchi, a medical anthropologist at Japan’s Temple University, argued that there is currently a societal lack of interest in dating, AI matchmaking services will be ineffective. If people are not interested in human-run dating services, it follows they would not be interested in trying an AI version.

Dr Horiguchi believes a better way of boosting birth rates would be designating the money towards helping young people and single mothers on lower incomes, who find it difficult to afford parental responsibilites. Currently, women in Japan are having to choose between having a career or being a mother but, Horiguchi argues, if there was support for those wanting to do both it would allow younger generations to broaden their horizons.

Many agree with Dr Horiguchi’s idea that there needs to be more support for working mothers as the country was ranked 121st out of 153 countries for gender equality by the 2019 World Economic Forum. One can hope that the government’s plans for innovation in 2021 will bring both the birth rate and gender equality records up to par.