SoftBank, the Japanese tech giant, is looking for deals in artificial intelligence, including a potential investment in OpenAI, the research lab behind ChatGPT, after the blockbuster listing of its Arm unit, the Financial Times reported on Saturday.
SoftBank’s founder plans to invest tens of billions in AI
SoftBank’s founder and chief executive, Masayoshi Son, is looking to invest tens of billions of dollars in AI, the newspaper said, citing two people familiar with Son’s thinking. Son believes that AI is the key to the future of technology and wants to build a portfolio of companies that can leverage it.
Son has been on a deal spree since last year, when he sold off some of his assets to raise cash and pay down debt. He has invested in companies such as TikTok owner ByteDance, e-commerce giant Alibaba, ride-hailing app Uber, and food delivery service DoorDash. He has also backed startups such as Stripe, Klarna, and Coupang.
Son’s latest target is OpenAI, the nonprofit research lab that was co-founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other tech luminaries in 2015. OpenAI is known for developing ChatGPT, a powerful natural language processing system that can generate realistic text and dialogue. OpenAI also created DALL-E, an image generation system that can create novel and diverse images from text prompts.
SoftBank could strike a broad strategic partnership with OpenAI
According to the Financial Times, SoftBank could strike a broad strategic partnership with OpenAI, which could involve investing in the lab or its spin-off companies. SoftBank could also help OpenAI commercialize its technology and expand its reach in Asia.
OpenAI has been seeking funding from various sources to support its ambitious research goals. In 2019, it received a $1 billion pledge from Microsoft, which also became its exclusive cloud provider. In 2020, it launched OpenAI LP, a for-profit entity that can raise capital from investors and share profits with the nonprofit parent.
SoftBank is not the only interested party in OpenAI. The report said that several other tech companies and investors have approached the lab with proposals. However, OpenAI has been cautious about accepting outside money and influence, as it aims to uphold its mission of creating and ensuring the safe and beneficial use of artificial general intelligence (AGI), which is AI that can perform any task that humans can.
SoftBank is also exploring other alternatives to OpenAI
The report said that SoftBank is also looking at a range of alternatives to OpenAI, including a preliminary approach to buy Graphcore, a UK-based AI chipmaker that competes with Nvidia and Intel. Graphcore has raised over $700 million from investors such as Microsoft, BMW, and Sequoia Capital.
SoftBank is also interested in other AI-related fields such as robotics, biotechnology, and quantum computing. The report said that Son has met with several prominent scientists and entrepreneurs in these domains and has expressed his willingness to invest in their ventures.
SoftBank’s renewed focus on AI comes after the successful IPO of its Arm unit, which raised nearly $5 billion in the US last week. Arm is a leading designer of chips for smartphones, laptops, and other devices. SoftBank bought Arm for $32 billion in 2016 and decided to spin it off this year to unlock its value and appease its shareholders.