SoftBank boss Masayoshi Son predicts artificial general intelligence is a decade away
'Investo-bot, make me rich' is his vision – powered by Arm chips, natch
Anyone still hungry for outrageous rhetoric and outsized praise for AI should tune in to last week’s keynote from SoftBank World, where the Japanese tech conglomerate's CEO Masayoshi Son declared the world is on the precipice of the singularity and compared those who eschew the power of AI to unempowered goldfish.
"The singularity is coming in the next ten years," declared Son. "We are now standing at the point of crossover."
Son's prediction was based on his belief that artificial general intelligence (AGI) will debut soon, and will become ten times more intelligent than all total human intelligence in a decade.
"Nobody but me believes AGI will be a reality in ten years. I am the first one that clings strongly to this belief. Whether it's right or wrong, I believe it," admitted Son.
Despite getting the feeling he was standing alone out in left field, the CEO doubled down and declared that in the next 20 years, the world would see Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) – the point at which AI is capable of developing thinking skills on its own.
Son is strongly of the belief that nations and individuals who are not already embracing AI will be left behind. He declared that the intelligence delta between those who will use AGI and those who won't is the same as the difference in intelligence between monkeys and humans.
And to Son, the embracing needs to begin now. He said those not using ChatGPT were akin to those disapproving of electricity. He repeatedly drew on the image of a goldfish stuck in a bowl to illustrate his point.
Humans need to use AI every day, according to Son, and to do so in the "right way."
Son scoffed at the idea that ChatGPT functions as a well-presented search engine and declared that he uses AI as a means to create and watch debates. He created AI characters who debate among themselves – and he gets to play the role of judge. Sometimes he debates the large language model (LLM) himself, taking pride when the LLM eventually concedes to his genius.
SoftBank's shareholders are no doubt thrilled at this revelation of how the CEO occupies his time.
Son's fear of being left behind seems to draw on Japanese economic trauma and its deserved reputation as a nation slow to embrace some aspects of digital technology.
The CEO described Japan's failure to accept the internet quickly in the '90s as the reason none of its companies are among the world's top ten in today, compared to eight in 1989. His speech served as a warning that those who do not embrace AI now face the same fate in ten years' time. The days of leading the world through commodity manufacturing are long gone, in the same way that internet-focused Big Tech soon will be, he argued.
"AGI crosses all industries – manufacturing, finance, logistics transportation, all industries. Those serious will be leaders in mankind in ten years. The new world will be a reality centred around AGI," predicted Son.
The future world of AI looks fantastic through the eyes of the SoftBank boss. There are self-driving cars with an accident rate at a mere one in ten thousand, supply chains that are perfectly matched with demand, digital customer service agents that don't follow scripts (just like a human would do if their companies didn't force them to follow scripts), and targeted gene therapy.
The most killer application, however, is AGI's simulation patterns to help financial institutions invest.
"All you need to say is what you want – say 'I wish to be rich' and then AGI says 'Yes, sir,' opens an account and completes transactions and investment to make you rich."
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Son was light on detail as to how this was all going to come to fruition – though he did suggest that the business model of AGI would be to pay per request one has of the system, similar to purchasing three wishes from a genie.
On a more practical level, Son said UK chip design firm Arm – which remains majority owned by SoftBank – would be more active in the production of the chips to power the upcoming AI revolution. He declared the number of Arm-based chip shipments is ever increasing, both for cloud and edge.
Arm CEO Rene Haas – a more tempered AI enthusiast that seemed at least aware of Gartner's hype cycle for new technologies – made an appearance on video at the keynote confirming that AI-related business was indeed booming for the firm.
"At Arm we are seeing an increasing proportion of our revenue being AI-enabled," revealed Haas. He detailed that over the last four years both total revenue and AI-enabled revenue had steadily increased and was expected to accelerate in the coming years.
All of this is great for selling chip designs – but when it comes to power consumption in the face of sustainability needs, things get a little complicated. Haas explained that cloud services alone take up three percent of total power consumption. AI will continue to drive greater power consumption, thus requiring ever more efficient chips.
Haas said conventional approaches to solving problems using CPU and GPU will eventually "run out of runway."
"We see a future where modern architecture – a CPU combined with an accelerator – will drive the best workload performance," concluded the Arm boss.
Haas conceded that the world will change faster than initially thought thanks to AI. He said securing data, ensuring its authenticity, and protecting it will become more important than ever for business operations.
"The idea of sovereign clouds, private clouds, and private company clouds will become more critical as companies need to protect intellectual property," he said, adding "That's going to be a big learning pace for the industry." ®