Softbank’s Son offers robots built for human joy

[:en]Japan’s richest man Masayoshi Son loves buying robots.

In the past few weeks, he’s invested in a company called I-Robot which makes a vacuum-cleaner which can crawl under the sofa and in Boston Dynamics, which makes a remarkable robot, can perform athletics and run playfully through the snow.

Mr Son said this week that: “People who deride robots face a future in which they will be overtaken by robots.”

Such remarkable claims often accompany his international deal-making. His talent for producing soundbites keeps him in the news.

In a three-hour presentation in Tokyo last Thursday, Mr Son, who is the chairman of the technology company Softbank, spoke of a bright future in which traffic accidents cease, cancer faces elimination and everyone and everything is connected to the internet.

He spoke in Japanese but thanks to the news agencies which covered the event and translated it (AP and Kyodo) we can read many of his statements in English:

• “Smart robots with artificial intelligence can learn by themselves and act on their own.”

• “Artificial Intelligence is not designed to put mankind at risk: it is designed to make humans happy.”

• “We want to connect one trillion devices to the internet.”

• “We are experiencing an information revolution which will benefit more people than the 19th Century Industrial Revolution.”

• “In the future, people who rule computer chips will rule the entire world and those who rule data will rule the entire world.”

Journalists love reporting such claims but they often question whether everything is true. For example, Leo Lewis in the Financial Times expressed scepticism this week about whether Japan’s recent splurge of international takeovers will turn out to be profitable.

More investments from Softbank and Mr Son are inevitable. He controls a $93 billion Vision Fund, based in London, which is constantly on the hunt for investment targets.

Alongside the robots, Mr Son wants to find business which share his vision of the “internet of things.”

His biggest risk to date was the purchase of the US telecoms company Sprint in 2013 for $21.6 billion.

He admits that’s turned out to be a very troublesome investment and a there’ was some sharp analysis of the deal in the magazine Nikkei Computer, recently, which revealed the frequent shouting matches Mr Son’s been having with Sprint’s American managers.

However, Son-San is a colourful character, among an otherwise monochrome set of Japanese executives.

Who else in Japan could keep an audience engaged during a three hour talk about science and then continue to generate global headlines almost every day?

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