SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son aims to foster an era of ‘super’ AI in new investment drive

Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp’s big-talking founder Masayoshi Son is back, this time with plans to bring about an era of artificial superintelligence (ASI).

Son sketched out ambitions to help create artificial intelligence (AI) thousands of times smarter than any human, making his most grandiose pronouncements since the SoftBank began taking steps to shore up its finances following a series of ill-timed start-up bets.

Sounding both more energised and more reflective than he has in years, Son on Friday talked about a future when chips designed by Arm Holdings support a thriving ecosystem of robots and powerful data centres that can collectively cure cancer, clean houses and play with children.

Son, at times visibly overtaken with emotion, talked about how he wanted to change the world before he leaves it for good. The 66-year-old invoked his late friend Steve Jobs, saying their frequent conversations often left him in tears when he realised his legacy would pale in comparison with the Apple co-founder’s.

SoftBank Group Corp founder, chairman and chief executive Masayoshi Son, centre, speaks during the company’s annual general meeting in Tokyo on June 20, 2024. Photo: Bloomberg

But after grappling with his failures over the past year, during which his entrepreneurial father passed away, Son said he woke up with an epiphany on Friday morning. “I had my answer,” Son told shareholders gathered at an annual meeting. “I made some checks, and I see my path forward.”

“This is what I was born to do – to realise ASI,” Son said, without elaborating on what his next plans might be. “Watch me, I will make it happen.”

SoftBank is working on a plan to deploy some US$100 billion into AI-related chips in a project dubbed Izanagi, Bloomberg reported in February.

Son’s exposition and his goals have grown grandiose in proportion to SoftBank’s share price, which has ridden Arm’s AI-driven rally in 2024, and its cash pile.

A woman walks in front of a SoftBank store in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district. Photo: AP

Top executives have hinted that SoftBank is getting ready to go on the offence in investing, potentially ending several quarters of hiatus in activity.

The company’s loan-to-value ratio dropped to 8.4 per cent as of end March, near a record low and far below the company’s target of 25 per cent. That is one of Son’s favourite metrics for determining whether the company is properly balancing risk and opportunity.

Chief financial officer Yoshimitsu Goto told investors during an earnings briefing last month that SoftBank is now in a position where it needs to take more risk, particularly as AI development accelerates.

“Failing to take risks constitutes the biggest risk for us,” said Goto who has previously served as the voice of reason to billionaire Son. “We have our sights set on a variety of challenges.”



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