(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Group Corp.’s billionaire founder Masayoshi Son implored a Japanese audience to embrace artificial intelligence, making an impassioned speech for early adoption at his first public appearance in months.
Japan, which largely missed the initial wave of growth from the internet, can’t afford to lose another three decades, Son said during an upbeat keynote address at SoftBank World, an annual event for the tech investor’s domestic corporate clients.
Noting that more than 70% of companies in Japan either ban or are considering banning the use of generative AI, Son waved his arms in frustration.
“Saying ‘Don’t use AI’ is like saying, don’t drive a car or use electricity,” he said Wednesday. “Whether you like it or not, the AI revolution will come.”
Son has stayed away from the public eye this year after suffering what he called a crisis of confidence on mounting losses at SoftBank’s flagship Vision Fund. But a surge in interest in AI, spurred by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, along with the initial public offering of chip architect Arm Holdings Plc last month appears to have revived his spirits.
The Vision Fund, which invested billions of dollars into hundreds of startups, lost more than $30 billion last fiscal year and shifted into a defensive, largely dormant mode. But now SoftBank, which is sitting on more than $40 billion in cash, is preparing to go back on the offensive again, executives have said.
Son’s enthusiasm for AI was on display during his 90-minute presentation, which began with an illustration of a goldfish in a fishbowl. People who refuse to use AI will end up akin to that goldfish, unable to process information like language, he said. The sum of knowledge that AI will command will be ten times that of all humanity within ten years, he added.
Arm Chief Executive Officer Rene Haas appeared during Son’s presentation to explain how the chip designer’s power-efficient architecture will become even more key with the spread of AI-wielding devices in the future.
SoftBank is embracing AI, Son said. SoftBank Corp., Japan’s third-largest wireless carrier, has tied up with Microsoft Corp. to market OpenAI services in the country, and is working on its own Japanese language chatbot. The telecom firm has sway over payments arm PayPay Corp., messaging app Line and search engine Yahoo Japan.
“Wake up, Japan!” Son told his audience. The CEO said he likes to watch ChatGPT-bots debate, as a cheaper alternative to watching his directors argue over ideas. “I want to be standing on the side of evolution. I don’t want to be left behind.”
--With assistance from Takahiko Hyuga.
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