The Japanese government plans to step up efforts to stem the country's tumbling birth rate by helping to fund more sophisticated artificial intelligence matchmaking systems, media said on Monday.
The number of births in 2019 was down 5.8 percent to around 865,000, the lowest annual figure ever: a drop in the number of marriages and a rise in the age of marriage both played a part.
In a country with a long history of human matchmakers, local governments have already moved on to AI matching systems to pair people up, but many only consider criteria such as income and age and only produce results if there is an exact match.
The latest envisaged central government funding will allow access to systems which pair people with a potential partner even if those income or age wishes do not match, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said.
A number of Japanese prefectures have already introduced such systems, which take hobbies and values into account and produce a wider range of results, but they can be costly.
Saitama, just north of Tokyo, spent 15 million yen ($144,000) in the fiscal year to March 2019 but saw some 21 couples head to the altar. Government data shows the number of marriages fell by 200,000 in Japan from 2000 to last year.
The national government will guarantee roughly 60 percent of the cost of the more elaborate AI systems, out of 2 billion yen it is requesting to fight the falling birthrate in next year's fiscal budget, the Yomiuri added.
A Cabinet Office official confirmed the figure, but added: "We're just disbursing money to fight the falling birth rate, it's up to the local governments how to spend it."
($1 = 104.2400 yen)
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Philippa Fletcher)