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SoftBank CEO Says Robots Make Peace, Not ‘Terminator’ War

Jun 20, 2014

SoftBank CEO Says Robots Make Peace, Not ‘Terminator’ War

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MAYUMI NEGISHI

Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Corp.9984.TO -0.09%, waves and shakes hands with the robot Pepper during a news conference June 5.

Shortly after Tesla Motors TSLA +0.79% and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk spoke of the need to be wary of “Terminator”-like outcomes from artificial intelligence, another tech visionary stressed the power of robots to spread love, joy, and peace.

Softbank  Chief executive Masayoshi Son invited the Japanese firm’s emotion-sensing robot Pepper onstage during the annual general shareholders’ meeting Friday. The two competed on tongue-twisters, with Pepper rattling off a tongue-twister 100 million times faster than Mr. Son — and getting some laughs for it.

“This is a robot that can love,”  Son said.

He then played a video touting ability of technology to eliminate war. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a robot or a cellphone or a PC,”  Son said. “I want to change the way people and computers relate with one another.”

It is a cliche that Japan has more of an affinity for robots than western countries. And like most cliches, it is probably wrong. Yes, Japan has its share of evil robots in movies and manga (Mechagodzilla, anyone?), just as there are plenty of lovable, quirky robots from Hollywood. But the contrast between Mr. Musk’s view on artificial intelligence and Son’s is striking.

Pepper is becoming a familiar presence by  Son’s side at news conferences, and is now employed at SoftBank stores in Tokyo’s Omotesando and Ginza shopping districts. The warm-hearted robot has gained access to Mr. Son and his operations that this reporter can only envy. Is Son so naive about the future of human-robot relations? Or is Musk too cautious?

Other than robots,  Son focused much of his presentation on SoftBank’s potential for growth in the U.S., where it bought wireless carrier Sprint S -0.59%  last year. He reiterated SoftBank’s aim to bring price competition to the market and to make U.S. networks faster and cheaper.

Asked by a shareholder about Sprint’s pursuit of smaller rival T-Mobile US Inc.TMUS +0.48% to gain scale against far bigger competitors, and how such an acquisition would affect the balance sheet,  Son said: “If we clearly have the power to pay back debt, then there are times when we can prioritize growth.”

Tadashi Yanai, chief executive at Fast Retailing 9983.TO -0.19% and an outside director at SoftBank, also hinted at further developments in the U.S.

“You get profit because you take risks. To become number one in the world, the U.S. market is essential. Sprint is the first stage. There will be stage number two, and number three.”

 

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About bambooinnovator
KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (www.moatreport.com), a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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