Getting some serious advice using AI

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Artificial intelligence (AI) is being increasingly used in Japan to provide advice on daily life, including shopping and romance.

More and more companies are offering services utilising artificial intelligence (AI) to provide advice on daily life, including shopping and romance.

 AI’s ability to recognise languages and images has been improving, as well as its ability to “study” a large volume of data and analyse it. AI’s data-based “objective advice” appears to be widely accepted by customers.

 “The match rate tops 90 per cent, which means they’re a good fit for you,” said a clerk at Jin Co.’s JINS Kichijoji Daiyagai store, an eyeglass shop near Kichijoji Station in Tokyo, showing a tablet screen to a customer in mid-December.

 A photo of a customer wearing eyeglasses is taken at the store and imported to the tablet device. AI then judges whether they fit the customer.

 The service is called “JINS BRAIN” and utilises AI technology. It was launched by the eyewear chain in November last year at about 300 outlets across the country.

 The AI decides based on a database of about 60,000 people. About 3,000 JINS store staff around the country looked at photos of these people wearing eyeglasses and evaluated whether the eyeglasses “fit” or “do not fit.”

 Once a customer’s photo is imported to the tablet device, JINS BRAIN gives the match rate, which ranges from zero to 100 per cent.

 “At an ordinary store, I can only get advice from one salesperson, but this [service] is based on lots of people’s opinions,” said a 15-year-old,Getting so third-year junior high school girl from Nerima Ward, Tokyo “It’s convincing because it gives [the rate] as a number.”

 “If only one staff member looks after a customer, sometimes their personal opinion is involved,” said Riki Nakamura, deputy manager of JINS Kichijoji Daiyagai store. “I hope [a judgment by JINS BRAIN] will provide choices [to customers] based on objective evaluation.”

 Expectations are growing for “dialogues with AI.”

 In May last year, major internet service provider Biglobe Inc. conducted an online survey on men and women aged 15 or older. Asked about what they expect regarding AI, with multiple answers allowed, 32 per cent of respondents said they expected AI to be a communication partner.

 Probably backed by such expectations, the internet portal site goo announced in its “Oshiete! goo” question and answer community in September last year a new service in which AI mascot “Oshieru” gives advice on romance upon consultation from users.

 Previously, Oshiete! goo was a simple user-based community in which users posted questions and other users gave advice or answers. Therefore, in some cases, answers were subjective or it took a long time to receive them. Sometimes there was no answer at all.

 In contrast, Oshieru has studied the meaning of words and how answers correspond to consultations from more than 30 million consultations and answers. If AI judges it can answer a certain question, it replies in a couple of minutes, in principle.

 An official of NTT Resonant Inc., the goo operator, proudly said, “It can meet the needs of people who want answers quickly.”

 Both assisting the selection of eyeglasses and counselling on romance are AI services that study a large volume of data to give advice.

 Kazuo Hiyane, general manager of Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc.’s Advanced Technology Research Center, said: “Due to the spread of the internet, it’s become easy to collect big data for AI to study, and a study method called ‘deep learning’ using such data has been established. This made it possible for AI’s abilities to dramatically improve.”

 However, AI’s communication capabilities are still in the development stage.

 “Although current AI seems to be having a conversation [with people], in many cases it simply creates certain patterns [from interaction with people] to give answers,” said Masatoshi Komeichi, a senior official in charge of Nomura Research Institute, Ltd.’s IT navigation. “Challenges remain in the field of language processing.”

 In the internet society, people now have more opportunities to access a huge amount of information. Therefore, consumers need to have the ability to choose information. How we interpret “advice” from AI depends on us, the users.

AI just a tool

Hitoshi Matsubara / Professor at Future University Hakodate and an expert on AI

The search engines we use on the internet and smartphone apps can be considered AI in a broad sense, and they have already become widespread in our daily life.

 Although there is some AI that is capable of communicating with people, it has yet to reach the stage at which it can understand the meaning of words and context, and have a deep conversation with us.

 AI is just a tool, and everything depends on how people use it.

 If we divide work by making AI do simple tasks while human beings do things that need creativity, we’ll have more emotional leeway and free time, and productivity will also improve.

 I believe AI will be a tool that enriches our lives.

Opinions on AI divided

 According to a 2016 white paper on information and communications, about 50 per cent of people have had a conversation with machines or services using AI technology.

 Asked about their impression, many respondents gave positive answers such as “I think it’s good because it’s convenient,” “I was surprised because it’s smart” and “I enjoyed the conversation.”

 However, there were also people who felt bewildered or uncomfortable interacting with AI. They gave answers such as “I couldn’t have a smooth conversation” and “I don’t think I can get used to it easily.”

 Opinions on AI are divided, apparently because communication with it is something new and different. 

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