TOKYO -- Japan will lean on artificial intelligence to identify illegal items hidden in the growing tide of parcels being shipped to the country.
According to the Finance Ministry, it takes a customs officer about 10 seconds of studying an X-ray image to judge whether a package might contain narcotics or other contraband. But the AI system will cut that time down to an instant.
The system will be introduced as early as this spring at six locations where the annual handling volume of international parcels totals about 100 million pieces. The locations include Haneda, Narita and Kansai international airports.
The ministry plans to expand the scope to all nine customs locations and their 68 branches next year and beyond, making all parcels arriving by air and sea subject to AI screening.
Smugglers often hide illegal drugs in parcels. The AI system, "trained" by deep-learning technology, can analyze X-ray images of parcels and flag those it suspects of containing drugs, guns or fake brand goods. Customs officers can then open and rummage through the flagged parcels.
The number of parcels being shipped to Japan has increased sharply as the country's residents take to buying goods online.
In 2019, the number of instances in which illegal goods were detected reached an all-time high.
About half of the illegal narcotics and stimulants confiscated by customs come through international postal services, but the sheer number of parcels is overwhelming the authorities.
The ministry aims to bolster customs screening ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which begins in July.