TOKYO -- Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank Group, which has accumulated 2 trillion yen ($19.1 billion) over the past months, is now honing its focus on artificial intelligence, CEO Masayoshi Son said at an annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday.
"I think we are about to see the biggest paradigm shift in human history," Son said. "The Singularity is coming. Artificial intelligence will overtake human beings not just in terms of knowledge, but in terms of intelligence. That will happen this century."
The Singularity, a concept popularized by American futurist Ray Kurzweil, refers to the inflection point where artificial intelligence becomes smarter than humans.
Son said robots loaded with artificial intelligence will be connected through the internet, leading to the creation of superintelligence. "There will be a world without language barriers. We will be able to peek into the future. Human beings will be able to live in a more prosperous age."
Son said his conglomerate, already a player in the field through its interactive robot Pepper, can do more. Although he did not specifically say he will use the accumulated cash on AI, he dropped more than a big hint.
"Looking into the next 30 years, our focus will no doubt be on AI, smart robots and the internet of things," Son said.
The CEO also said his enthusiasm for realizing the Singularity was one of the reasons behind him changing his mind on when to hand over the reins to company president Nikesh Arora. Rather than wait for the CEO job, Arora has decided to leave the company.
"I still have unfinished business regarding the Singularity," Son said. "I want to continue for at least another five years."
Son said he made the decision to stay on sometime "in the last couple of weeks."
Despite the focus on AI, Son noted that he is not leaving behind the SoftBank Group's telecommunications businesses in Japan and the U.S. Telecom providers, he said, can contribute to developing AI. He talked of how the brain needs the nerve system to communicate to different parts of the body. AI will likewise need robots.
"Communication is so important," he said. "Having communication networks in the U.S. and Japan is at the core of our medium term strategy. We will continue to have 100% control over the businesses."
SoftBank's U.S. telecom unit is Sprint.
Leading up to the meeting, SoftBank had been busy turning assets into cash. It unwound its stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding and Japanese smartphone game developer GungHo Online Entertainment, while agreeing on Tuesday to sell Finnish mobile game provider Supercell to Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings for $7.3 billion.
SoftBank shares rose more than 3% on Wednesday, at one point reaching 6,070 yen, a high for the week.