SoftBank’s Massive AI Investments: A Roadmap for the Future

August 28, 2018

Technology has profoundly shaped our daily lives and how humanity interacts with each other. It was barely one generation ago that telephones hung on walls or rested on desks, bulky cameras had carrying cases, film required developing, and computers were bulky machines almost exclusively in offices. Fast forward to today where we can carry books, games, cameras, clocks, calendars, computers, music, and email in our hand, on a single device that slides right in our pocket. As much as technology has changed the way we work, shop, entertain, and socialize, artificial intelligence has subtly crept into these areas. To understand the effect it has made in our lives, we must first grasp the field of artificial intelligence.

What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a computer’s ability to mimic a human’s capacity to think, process, and make choices and decisions. AI can learn from data to identify patterns and make decisions independently such as which route has less traffic while driving in the car. AI is programmed based on a set of rules (algorithms) and instructions that govern how software learns, develops, and responds. Most people don’t realize that when using Google’s search engine, AI is actually helping power the search results.

AI Is All Around Us

Digital technology and AI have had an enormous impact on our daily lives. Checking phones, email notifications and Slack channels is incredibly normal and acceptable behavior. As this shift has occurred, AI has become more prevalent; it’s included in products like Google Home or Amazon Echo, first person shooter videogames, autonomous driving cars and online customer support. It’s easy for us to forget that GPS was the AI technology that preceded Google Maps.

What’s Next

The future of AI is trending toward self-driving cars, AI-integrated healthcare that makes use of advanced diagnostic machinery, and natural disaster management that delivers help to remote areas. Artificial intelligence and even machine learning is teaching our technology to do more than think and make decisions, but also to feel and react.

SoftBank’s Vision for the Future

AI’s biggest impact on us lays in its future ability to surpass human intelligence. SoftBank Group Corp. launched their Vision Fund, the largest tech fund in the world, to focus on “growing businesses run by disruptive innovators that are seeking to be the foundational platforms of the information revolution.” SoftBank has a market cap of $100 billion and is seeking to invest over $1 billion in AI startups over the next several years, with a keen eye to those building new industries, not simply patching broken processes and technology.

SoftBank CEO and tech visionary, Masayoshi Son, believes that by the end of the century, robots will surpass human intelligence. He also envisions that over the next 80 years, robot IQ will reach 10,000. For perspective, MENSA (human) members have IQs hovering around 130! Those robots will certainly be smart, so it’s comforting that Son doesn’t think they’ll desire anything but harmony co-existing with humans. Whew, glad they’ll have nothing to gain from going Independence Day on us.

SoftBank is Doubling Down on Artificial Intelligence

SoftBank is so committed to an AI-centric future it paid $32 billion to buy the chip designer ARM Holdings last year. They’re banking on the chip market exploding to demand 1 trillion chips and that ARM will be designing 90 to 99% of them, becoming an invaluable crux in the development of all artificial intelligence technology. Son has famously stated that 97% of his “time and brain” is devoted to artificial intelligence. That ambition is nothing new for Son, the creator of a 300 year plan with a long term strategic vision.

SoftBank selected SenseTime for a large capital investment because it fits strategically into the larger vision of investing in a future led by AI and data. In addition to facial recognition and identity verification, SenseTime is diversifying into the fields of autonomous driving and augmented reality. The company is currently developing a service for mass surveillance, nicknamed “Viper” which is a platform that can parse data from thousands of live camera feeds.

Son led a substantial $93 million investment in Petuum Inc., a firm with technology that simplifies and makes machine learning processes scalable for companies in a variety of industries. Their software system in the healthcare field reviews electronic medical records in order to diagnosis diseases and offer subsequent medical recommendations. This technology will have a huge impact on human life expectancy and quality of life.

SoftBank, the Investment Disruptor

Even though Son has assembled a team of 200 scouts who help him suss out potential AI targets for acquisition and perform lengthy due diligence, by 2050, he expects robots to be better investors than humans. This perspective is impossible to dismiss, SoftBank’s huge market cap makes the company a trendsetter with far-reaching influence in the market and investment community.

Son is not a typical investor. He is dedicated to honing on a values-based family-style approach of sharing technology between companies in his portfolio; setting him apart from almost every other venture capitalist today. The Vision Fund operates with a strategic hybrid approach that pivots between venture capital and a diversified corporation, quite similar in nature to SoftBank itself. This winning approach allows SoftBank to quickly inject capital for necessary acceleration, while also creating a harmonious, supportive portfolio of companies.

The WorkDone Way

The Vision Fund’s leadership is based on family values, personified by Masayoshi Son who leads by example. WorkDone is an AI firm led by a Joe Rogers, an experienced Technologist who understands the social impact of automation. WorkDone has created a non-profit Foundation to provide solutions and innovative approaches to empowering AI-displaced workers and preparing the next generation of workers to meet the challenges of our ever-evolving world.

WorkDone intends for the Foundation to facilitate entrepreneurial creativity from people who may be out of work in the future due to AI. It will empower its members to self-generate business proposals, and then help direct which proposals to fund, thereby creating real opportunities for the people who need it most – themselves.

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