Over the course of the next year, the Japanese government will experiment with using AI applications to encourage people to couple up and start families. According to the BBC, the goal is to address Japan’s falling birth rate by using AI to match people with highly compatible partners.
Japan is facing an emerging social problem due to low birth rates. The nation has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world and one of the highest proportions of elderly citizens of any nation. Complications of this divide include a shrinking workforce and not enough people to take care of an aging population. Data collected by the Japanese government found that the number of marriages in Japan fell by 200,000 through the years 2000 to 2019. In 2019, the number of babies born in the country was 865,000, a record low for the country. The coronavirus crisis has exacerbated the problem by making it more difficult for couples to meet up and go on dates.
In order to address this problem, the Japanese government will be funding the creation of AI systems intended to prospective parents meet. 2021 will see the government allocate approximately 2 billion yen ($19 million dollars) to local authorities to push the birth rate up.
According to a cabinet official, the Japanese government plans to offer subsidies to local government officials who want to employ AI in matchmaking projects. Local authorities across 47 different prefectures in Japan already offer matchmaking services to citizens. These services are human-run at the moment, but some of them have turned to using AI systems to recommend matches for individuals using their services. The idea is to have people submit standardized forms and use machine learning algorithms to perform sophisticated analyses on the forms.
The current AI systems used by local matchmaking services are often limited to surface level criteria like age and income. Increased funding will allows the system engineers to design more complex models that take into account features like values and hobbies. As reported by Interesting Engineering, the AI systems will discount certain stated preferences of singles, placing greater importance on “emotional quotients” like emotional intelligence, personalities, and the aforementioned hobbies and values.
Beyond the AI systems, Japan’s policymakers are seeking other ways to ensure that the nation will be able to meet the inflating cost of welfare. While some members of the Japanese government are pursuing AI to bump up low birth rates, some researchers argue there are better ways to accomplish that goal. According to the BBC, a socio-cultural anthropologist as Japan’s Temple University, Schiko Horiguchi, argues that helping young people earning low wages could achieve the goal, citing research that found a link between loss of interest in romantic relationships and lower income levels.
This certainly wouldn’t be the first instance of using AI to help people match with potential partners. Dating app companies have been leveraging AI for a few years now. Different apps use AI in different ways, with apps like Loveflutter attempting to decode people’s tweets to discern personalities and match people who have similar personality types. Meanwhile, there are even voice activated dating apps like AIMM, which asks the user a series of questions to determine their a person’s tastes and habits and send them matches based on their answers. However, this is probably the first time that a national government has endorsed the use of AI to help citizens meet significant others.
It isn’t clear how the Japanese government will handle the privacy and ethical concerns associated with using data gathered from citizens to shape their love lives. Whether the application is developed by a private company or by a government agency, there are ethical issues surrounding how people’s data should be used and how their agency when choosing romantic partners should be respected.
As quoted by Forbes, psychotherapist and Relationship Expert, as well as CEO of Opening the Doors Psychotherapy and Babita Spinelli Group, Babita Spinelli, LP JD, explained that while there are a host of benefits to using algorithms and apps to connect with others, it must be done with care. Said Spinelli:
“We would be irresponsible not to take a deeper look at the emotional, social, and psychological effects of algorithms and how they ultimately influence human identity.”
“I personally don’t see anything wrong with finding the right match and working through the informational database,” says Elco. However, she continues, “We need to be aware that AI can be used for wrong purposes such as manipulation, deception and misleading communication.”