Emerging Technologies

One of Japan's biggest companies is investing $100 billion in the information revolution

SoftBank Group Corp Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, February 8, 2017.    REUTERS/Toru Hanai - RC1E398FC9E0

Japan's SoftBank Group plans to pump $100 billion into projects contributing to the "betterment of humanity." Image: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Brad Jones
Writer for Futurism, Futurism
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Emerging Technologies

In brief

SoftBank Group is one of Japan's largest companies, and the country's richest man is at its helm. Now, the organization is embarking on a $100 billion funding spree to give promising tech companies the financing they need to keep the information revolution moving forward.

$100 billion

To say Japan’s SoftBank Group is set to make a considerable investment into the information revolution over the next five years is a bit of an understatement — by 2022, the company plans to pump $100 billion into projects that they believe use technology to contribute to the “betterment of humanity.”

The SoftBank Vision Fund is a pet project for Masayoshi Son, the company’s CEO and Japan’s richest man. Son is no stranger to the potential for both profits and pitfalls associated with investing in technology — he lost around $70 billion of his own personal fortune when the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, SoftBank isn’t going into this venture alone. As of May of this year, the company had already amassed $93 billion for the SoftBank Vision Fund, with the rest expected to be raised by the end of 2017.

$60 billion of that figure comes from the Middle East, $45 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and $15 billion from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company. Apple, Foxconn, Oracle, Qualcomm, and Sharp have also contributed to the fund.

Splashing the cash

As for where all that money will go, SoftBank already has a few ideas.

In July, they kicked off funding proceedings by awarding money to San Diego’s Brain Corp, a startup that specializes in outfitting manual machines with technology that transforms them into self-driving robots that can safely navigate an environment without human input.

Later that month, the SoftBank Vision Fund was used to lead a $200 million round of funding for Plenty, a company that aims to rethink the current farming process by growing crops vertically. According to the company, vertical farms in urban environments are capable of producing 350 times more vegetables with just 1 percent of the water used in traditional farming.

More investments came thick and fast in August, starting with a contribution of $1.1 billion to Roivant Sciences, a company that seeks out abandoned drugs and establishes subsidiaries to distribute them. The firm recently set up a new offshoot named Datavant that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help with drug discovery and the development of clinical trials.

The fund also led a $2.5 billion round of investments into Flipkart, an e-commerce firm that’s already India’s largest private company. $250 million was also poured into Atlanta-based alt-lending group Kabbage, and a whopping $4.4 billion went to co-working company WeWork.

Spending pattern

The SoftBank Vision Fund covers so many different industries and so many forms of technology that spotting the overarching pattern might be difficult. However, two major themes emerge amidst all this funding: projects that make tangible improvements to people’s lives and ideas that will underpin the next stage of the information revolution.

Overstating the impact that the internet and associated technology has had over most of our lives over the past 20 years is impossible. At its core, SoftBank’s fund is designed to ensure that we continue pushing forward over the next two decades.

The projects that have already received funding are all linked to some of the most basic activities in life: going to work, getting medicine from a doctor, buying things from a store, etc. These are pretty universal actions, so any advances have the potential to positively impact a huge number of lives.

Technology has already changed the world dramatically. SoftBank is willing to invest $100 billion to ensure that none of that momentum is lost as we move forward.

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