Superintelligent AI explains Softbank’s push to raise a $100BN Vision Fund

Anyone who’s seen Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son give a keynote speech will know he rarely sticks to the standard industry conference playbook.

And his turn on the stage at Mobile World Congress this morning was no different, with Son making like Eldon Tyrell and telling delegates about his personal belief in a looming computing Singularity that he’s convinced will see superintelligent robots arriving en masse within the next 30 years, surpassing the human population in number and brainpower.

“I totally believe this concept,” he said, of the Singularity. “In next 30 years this will become a reality.”

“If superintelligence goes inside the moving device then the world, our lifestyle dramatically changes,” he continued, pointing out that autonomous vehicles containing a superintelligent AI would become smart robots.

“There will be many kinds. Flying, swimming, big, micro, run, two legs, four legs, 100 legs,” he added, further fleshing out his vision of a robot-infested future.

Son said his personal conviction in the looming rise of billions of superintelligent robots both explains his acquisition of UK chipmaker ARM last year, and his subsequent plan to establish the world’s biggest VC fund.

“I truly believe it’s coming, that’s why I’m in a hurry – to aggregate the cash, to invest,” he noted.

Son’s intent to raise $100BN for a new fund, called the Softbank Vision Fund, was announced last October, getting early backing from Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund as one of the partners.

The fund has since pulled in additional contributors including Foxconn, Apple, Qualcomm and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison’s family office.

But it has evidently not yet hit Son’s target of $100BN as he used his MWC keynote as a sales pitch for additional partners. “I’m looking for a partner because we alone cannot do it,” he told delegates, smiling and opening his arms in a wide gesture of appeal. “We have to do it quickly and here are all kinds of candidates for my partner.”

Son said his haste is partly down to a belief that superintelligent AIs can be used for “the goodness of humanity”, going on to suggest that only AI has the potential to address some of the greatest threats to humankind’s continued existence — be it climate change or nuclear annihilation.

Though he also said it’s important to consider whether such a technology will be “good or bad”.

“It will be so much more capable than us –- what will be our job? What will be our life? We have to ask philosophical questions,” he said. “Is it good or bad?”

“I think this superintelligence is going to be our partner. If we misuse it it’s a risk. If we use it in good spirits it will be our partner for a better life. So the future can be better predicted, people will live healthier, and so on,” he added.

Given this vision for billions of superintelligence connected devices fast-coming down the pipe, Son is unsurprisingly very concerned about security. He said he discusses this weekly with ARM engineers. And described how one of his engineers had played a game to see how many security cameras he could hack during a lunchtime while waiting for his wife. The result? 1.2M cameras potentially compromised during an idle half hour or so.

“This is how it is dangerous, this is how we should start thinking of protection of ourself,” said Son. “We have to be very very careful.

“We are shipping a lot of ARM chips but in the past those were not secure. We are enhancing very quickly the security. We need to secure all of the things in our society.”

Son also risked something of a Gerald Ratner moment when he said that all the chips ARM is currently shipping for use in connected cars are not , in fact, secure. Going so far as to show a video of a connected car being hacked and the driver being unable to control the brakes or steering.

“There are 500 ARM chips [in one car] today — and none of them are secure today btw!” said Son. (Though clearly he’s working hard with his team at ARM to change that.)

He also discussed a plan to launch 800 satellites in the next three years, positioned in a nearer Earth orbit to reduce latency and support faster connectivity, as part of a plan to help plug connectivity gaps for connected cars — describing the planned configuration of satellites as “like a cell tower” and like “fiber coming straight to the Earth from space”.

“We’re going to provide connectivity to billions of drivers from the satellites,” he said.

For carriers hungry for their next billions of subscribers as smartphone markets saturate across the world, Son painted a pictured of vast subscriber growth via the proliferation of connected objects — which handily of course also helps his bottom line, as the new parent of ARM.

“If I say number of subscribers will not grow it’s not true,” he told the conference. “Smartphones no — but IoT chips will grow to a trillion chips — so we will have 1TR subscribers in the next 20 years. And they will all be smart.”

“One of the chips in our shoes in the next 30 years will be smart than our brain. We will be less than our shoes! And we are stepping on them!” he joked. “It’s an interesting society that comes.

“All of the cities, social ecosystem infrastructure will be connected,” he added. “All those things will be connected. All connected securely and managed from the cloud.”