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SoftBank to focus on future tech, Son tells shareholders

by

Staff Writer

Telecommunications may be SoftBank Corp.’s main business, but the telecom giant said it will focus more on the next big technologies — the “Internet of things,” artificial intelligence and advanced robots — in the coming years.

While big data and cloud-computing are the primary trends in the mobile Internet industry today, SoftBank is taking aim at the future, Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son said during the firm’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Friday.

“We are thinking of three important fields — Internet of things, artificial intelligence and ‘smart robots.’ These three fields are what we will focus on most in the next five to 10 years,” he said.

Son said that many products in daily life, such as refrigerators, shoes and clothing, will be connected to the Internet in the coming decades.

“In 30 years, I believe Uniqlo’s shirts, pants, belts and even underwear will be connected to the Internet,” said Son, looking at Uniqlo President Tadashi Yanai, who is an outside director at SoftBank.

When the era of the Internet of things really takes off, Son said, SoftBank will provide innovative business models and technology.

A typical person has around two electronics devices, like a smartphone and a computer, that connect to the Internet now, but this number can be expected to jump to a thousand per person in 30 years, Son predicted.

He also said that computer intelligence will surpass the human brain in the coming years, which means AI applications will spread, including to robots.

What’s more, the number of robots will exceed the human population within three decades, according to Son, and the value of those robots will not be in hardware but in intelligence, which is why he said SoftBank will be focusing on that area.

His remarks came a day after SoftBank announced that its humanoid robot Pepper will go on sale Saturday. The firm is also teaming up with IBM to develop the Watson AI system for the Japanese market.

Son also introduced former Google executive Nikesh Arora, who is currently a SoftBank board member, to shareholders as his primary successor. When SoftBank Corp. changes its name to SoftBank Group Corp. in July, Arora will be president while Son will stay on as chairman and CEO