The Japanese government budget for promoting artificial intelligence in fiscal 2018 is less than 20 percent the amount to be spent by the U.S. and Chinese governments, a Kyodo News tally found, potentially exacerbating Japan's competitive disadvantage in the field.
Planned AI-related spending totals 77.04 billion yen ($720 million) in the draft budget for the year starting April 1, up some 30 percent from the current year. But that is still far short of the approximately 500 billion yen and 450 billion yen expected to be spent by the U.S. and Chinese governments respectively.
Both government and private companies in the United States and China are investing aggressively in AI technologies, which are expected to dramatically improve productivity and accelerate innovation.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is promoting the use of AI to improve productivity in Japan, which has a rapidly aging population and already grapples with a labor shortage.
Still, the widening gap in AI-related investment between Japanese and U.S. companies suggests it will be difficult for Japan to overturn U.S. dominance.
In the private sector, Japan's AI investment is around 600 billion yen annually, according to Japanese government data, compared to over 7 trillion yen in the United States where information technology giants like Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. lead the way. Even in China, which places more importance on the national budget for economic development, private spending is about the same as in Japan.
Of the planned budget for fiscal 2018, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry earmarked 39.3 billion yen for the development of robot-related technologies and AI chips for next-generation computers, while the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare plans 19.6 billion yen for AI use in medical data management and pharmaceutical research.
A senior industry ministry official said it is almost impossible to catch up with the United States in internet-related AI.
"(Japan) will seek new opportunities in the improvement of productivity in the manufacturing industry and healthcare," the official said.