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  4. SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son thinks his firm will 'rule the world' thanks to its AI investments. Believe it or not, that's not as far-fetched as his previous claims.

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son thinks his firm will 'rule the world' thanks to its AI investments. Believe it or not, that's not as far-fetched as his previous claims.

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son thinks his firm will 'rule the world' thanks to its AI investments. Believe it or not, that's not as far-fetched as his previous claims.
Masayoshi Son, the chief of Japanese Internet and telecom giant Softbank, delivers a speech during a press conference in Seoul on June 20, 2011.Park Ji-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images
  • SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son says the firm will be a winner in the AI race thanks to its investments.
  • Son predicted at the firm's annual shareholder meeting that AI will supercharge human ability.

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son praised AI during the company's annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, saying the firm will "rule the world" and win the latest generative AI race thanks to its heavy investment in startups and its majority stake in UK-based chip designer Arm.

Son typically uses his company's annual shareholder meeting to present his own bold, if eccentric vision for the future. His presentation this year still made some bold predictions, but was overall more tame compared to previous years.

Since 2017, SoftBank has raised more than $100 billion to invest in technology startups through its Vision Fund, making a name for itself by plowing money into companies and hoping they could outdo competitors.

The fund's performance has cast something of a shadow over Son. SoftBank's biggest investments include the beleaguered coworking office company WeWork and others like Wag, an on-demand dog walking service. SoftBank invested $375 million in the recently-shuttered Zume, a startup that used robots to produce pizzas out of the back of delivery vans.

The Vision Fund is reportedly planning to let go some employees this week following quarter after quarter of losses; it's also written down investments and tried to sell off stakes in other companies. It has netted some wins, however, including investments in TikTok owner ByteDance and DoorDash.

Despite some catastrophic missteps, Son's latest presentation was optimistic about SoftBank's future, thanks to AI. Arm, a key player in the design of AI chipsets and SoftBank's AI ambitions, is anticipated to go public soon.

Son often invests based on the futuristic predictions outlined in his presentations. In a past presentation, Son predicted that life expectancy would increase to over 200 by the year 2400 and that humans will someday learn to coexist with intelligent robots.

In 2020 near the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Son used ominous imagery to describe the challenges some startups faced, likening the situation to the Great Depression. In another graphic from the same presentation, he described how startups would fall into a "Valley of Coronavirus," but that some companies would gain wings and fly out of the valley better than before.

In another presentation from 2017, Son describes SoftBank's 30-year vision for the future, which involves telepathy, cloned sheep, and computer-brain interfaces — that final one doesn't seem as crazy now considering Elon Musk's founding of Neuralink. Son has repeatedly talked about an "information revolution" in which access to more knowledge through the internet will result in greater happiness.

Son spent most of the presentation this year discussing AI's potential, where excitement has soared on the back of new generative AI technology like OpenAI's ChatGPT.

Below are some slides from SoftBank's latest investor presentation:

In his presentation, Son asked, "what is a human?"

In his presentation, Son asked, "what is a human?"
SoftBank's Masayoshi Son likened advancements in artificial intelligence to the evolution of humans.      SoftBank

Son began the presentation by saying he did not feel his job was complete quite yet, as he reflected on his time running SoftBank over the past year. Instead the CEO, now 65 years old, envisions spending his final years as an executive and an "architect building the future of humankind."

In his presentation, he asked, "what is a human?" before answering that it's the most intelligence animal on earth.

Son believes we're approaching singularity, a point at which AI-based superintelligence will far exceed human ability.

Son believes we
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son believes we're approaching a point in which AI will far exceed human intelligence.      SoftBank

A core thesis of Son's presentation is that AI will far exceed human intelligence in the near future, an idea commonly referred to as "singularity." The idea that AI is anywhere near the ability of humans has been widely contested by industry experts.

AI will supercharge human ability by 10,000x, not replace it, according to one slide.

AI will supercharge human ability by 10,000x, not replace it, according to one slide.
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son says AI will supercharge human abilities by "10,000x" in a presentation to investors.      SoftBank

The latest generative AI technology, Son said, could multiply human intelligence thousands of times over.

He added that everything will be connected to AI, with AI-powered robots replacing humans for many tasks and making resources like food and housing more accessible.

The pace of evolution is accelerating faster than ever before.

The pace of evolution is accelerating faster than ever before.
AI is rapidly advancing the evolution of man, according to SoftBank, and will bring with it superhuman capabilties.      SoftBank

AI will bring with it faster human evolution than seen during the agriculture or industrial revolutions, according to Son. This will lead to superhuman capabilities, he added.

Son believes AI won't just make life easier, but will also solve problems humans haven't been able to crack.

Son believes AI won
SoftBank believes AI has the potential to find solutions to complex problems, like natural disasters.      SoftBank

Son believes AI has the potential to find solutions to complex problems that have been intractable for humans thus far, such as predicting natural disasters. The technology could analyze large amounts of data to recognize patterns associated with earthquakes faster and more accurately than humans could, he suggested as an example.

AI might replace some jobs but will ultimately allow people to live long, healthier lives.

AI might replace some jobs but will ultimately allow people to live long, healthier lives.
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son says autonomous vehicles are one application of AI that will improve society.      SoftBank

In one slide, Son offers self-driving cars as one way AI will improve society and allow people to live longer, healthier lives.

Companies like Google have invested in autonomous vehicles years. Google has only recently began public testing of its vehicles, and in limited regions. Son's optimistic predictions about AI may come true, but perhaps on a longer time horizon.

SoftBank's Arm will be at the center of its AI strategy.

SoftBank
SoftBank paid $32 billion to acquire Arm in 2016.      SoftBank

Son's presentation highlighted the company's Arm investment. Arm designs chips for systems that run massive AI algorithms. These designs are inside chipsets produced by leading players in AI including Nvidia, which has seen its hardware in wild demand as its chips are built for running complex AI algorithms. And just about every smartphone on the market today, including Apple's iPhone, incorporates Arm designs.

Arm will "accelerate the evolution of AI," the presentation said. It says more than 258 billion Arm-based chips have been shipped as of 2022.

Son's presentation touts ARM's new chip designs for their increased performance and power efficiency.

Son
SoftBank says Arm's latest Cortex-X4 architecture is 40% more power efficiency than the previous generation.      SoftBank

SoftBank says Arm's latest Cortex-X4 architecture is 40% more power efficient than the previous generation. That's important because critics say generative AI requires lots of energy, making it cost prohibitive for some uses and potentially harmful for the environment.

SoftBank is awarding prizes to its portfolio companies that experiment with generative AI.

SoftBank is awarding prizes to its portfolio companies that experiment with generative AI.
SoftBank is offering prizes to its portfolio companies that experiment with generative AI.      SoftBank

Son noted that some might believe he's been publicly quiet in recent months out of embarrassment over the significant losses of SoftBank's investment arm. He countered the idea by saying he's been busy putting SoftBank on the offensive.

"What I am working on most, what I am focused on most is the AI revolution," he said.

To encourage companies within SoftBank's portfolio to capture the potential of generative AI, the firm is holding monthly contests where the best ideas result in cash prizes. The idea is that generative AI could supercharge existing company's products, such as B2B and productivity apps, before competitors come onto the scene with better offerings.

Son's eccentric optimism has resulted in major miscalculations in the past.

Son
SoftBank lost billions on its investment in WeWork, which is now worth less than $1 billion      SoftBank

Despite Son's hubris, he has also reflected on his mistakes. SoftBank and its Vision Fund put more than $10 billion into WeWork under the belief that the office sharing company could use technology, including AI, to create a more efficient model for leasing space.

After the company's disastrous fall from grace in 2019 when it canceled an initial public offering, Son told investors his "judgment in investment was not right in many ways." WeWork eventually went public, but has struggled to turn a profit due to low margins and high operating costs.

The technology industry now faces a historic downturn, but excitement for AI is pushing investors to focus their dry powder on startups that can get in on the trend early.

SoftBank isn't the only company making big predictions about AI. The consulting firm McKinsey recently published a report predicting that generative AI could add $4.4 trillion of value to the global economy annually. Still, that company made similar claims about blockchain and the metaverse in the past, and those predictions have not come to fruition.

It remains to be seen how transformative generative AI will truly be, and whether startups or tech giants will succeed from this AI boom.

You can watch the full presentation here:

SoftBank's annual shareholders meeting.




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