Generative AI Shock Wave / LDP Eager to Embrace AI, But Lacks Plan to Regulate It

The Yomiuri Shimbun
OpenAI Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman speaks to reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Prime Minister’s Office on April 10.

This is the final installment in a series examining issues with generative AI ahead of the G7 summit in May, where international guidelines on the technology will be discussed.


An unexpected meeting between Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and the chief executive officer of OpenAI, the U.S. startup that developed the ChatGPT conversational artificial intelligence tool, could have wide-ranging implications.

Kishida met with Sam Altman for about 20 minutes at the Prime Minister’s office on the morning of April 10. During the meeting, Kishida raised concerns about ChatGPT, such as infringements of privacy and copyright. Kishida also mentioned that Italy has temporarily banned the chatbot, and asked whether this technology was safe to use.

However, the conversation did not become acrimonious. Kishida even explained that the issue of lawmakers using AI to create answers to Diet questions was becoming a hot topic. After the meeting ended amicably, Altman praised Kishida as being “incredibly thoughtful.” Altman also told reporters he was considering opening an office in Japan.

Generative AI likely will be on the agenda at the Group of Seven Digital and Tech Ministers’ Meeting this weekend in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture. At a time when countries in Europe and elsewhere are putting AI under increasing scrutiny, Kishida’s decision to hold in-person talks with the head of a company at the forefront of this technology before the G7 meeting could raise questions about the approach of the host nation.

Some government officials believe Altman came to Japan with a clear goal. “He calculated that he would be warmly welcomed in Japan, which lags [other countries] when it comes to AI technologies,” a government official said.

Yoh Mikami, a journalist who is well-versed in information technology issues, pointed out that OpenAI’s strategy will be to place greater focus on expanding markets outside the English-speaking world, such as Japan. “The company aims to increase its users without worrying about profitability so that it can dominate AI around the world,” Mikami said. “It will probably get serious about collecting data from users when it reaches the stage where this technology has become popular to a certain extent.”

It remains unclear just how deeply Kishida examined the concerns that have been raised about the possibility that Open AI might use the meeting as a foothold to expand its presence in Japan. Kishida himself has not indicated any strong feelings about ChatGPT, and he reportedly used it for the first time shortly before his meeting with Altman. “The government is not at the stage where it would seriously consider using it,” Kishida told close aides.

However, Kishida also has said, “Many people in the party are leaning toward this technology.”

Such people may include senior officials of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Headquarters for the Promotion of a Digital Society, headed by Takuya Hirai, a former digital transformation minister. These senior officials, who consider themselves advocates of using AI, came into contact with Altman through the private sector and helped to arrange his meeting with Kishida.

The prime ministers’ aides initially were wary of allowing Kishida to meet with the head of such a new company, but the senior officials were undeterred, arguing that the CEO of a cutting-edge company was someone he should meet to learn more about the issue.

After meeting with Kishida, Altman also attended a meeting of the digital society promotion headquarters, where he proposed, among other things, working together with Japanese researchers.

One senior official later revealed that Altman said he had spoken with politicians and officials of administrative bodies from various countries and that Japan had treated him “the most fairly.” That comment suggests the reception Altman received in Japan stood apart from the increasing concerns being expressed about ChatGPT in other nations. In fact, Hirai said at the meeting, “The risks would be high without regulations, but we won’t be daunted just because there are big risks.”

The ruling LDP is tilting toward promoting wider use of ChatGPT. However, there has been little discussion within the government about regulating such technologies, and there is no sign of anybody putting the brakes on such moves. This comes against a backdrop in which Japan, in recent years, has felt frustrated about trailing other nations when it comes to technological innovations.

A government council to consider its AI strategy, established in 2016, compiled an action plan in 2018 in which it expressed fears that Japan was lagging behind the United States and China in this field.

Subsequently, the government’s delays in digitizing its administrative functions hindered efforts to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic in many areas. Japan has also been noticeably tardy in dealing with security-related issues, such as those in the cyber and drone fields.

“Development, usage and regulations will be necessary, but falling behind in this technology race would deal a powerful blow to Japanese industries,” a senior government official said. “There’s no way the government can turn its back on this.”

At a time when the harmful effects of generative AI are becoming apparent around the world, how will the government implement appropriate restrictions while business and industrial circles use this technology to help their growth? The government faces a difficult and delicate balancing act.