Vision & Strategy
SoftBank's Next 30-Year Vision
SoftBank's Next 30-Year Vision
At the annual general meeting of shareholders in 2010 which also marked the 30th anniversary of the company's founding, we announced the "SoftBank's Next 30-Year Vision" This set our course for the next 30 years in becoming "the corporate group needed most by people around the world" by accelerating human progress and increasing happiness for all via the Information Revolution.
It can be said that even back then, we had already created a corporate philosophy and vision with an awareness of sustainable growth, as well as a strategy and business model (value creation story) to realize it.
The “SoftBank Next 30-Year Vision” summarizes the results of a year-long discussion by around 20,000 SoftBank Group employees, along with wise feedback from external Twitter users. It has three components.
The first is the Group's Philosophy. What is the purpose of our business? The second is our Vision. What kind of world and lifestyle will the SoftBank Group want to realize in 30 years and 300 years from now? The third is our Strategy, which speaks to how we will realize our Vision.
What is the purpose of our business? What do we want to achieve? In a nutshell, we want to help people lead happier, more fulfilling lives through the Information Revolution. That's what it's all about. In the process of developing the Next 30-Year Vision, we asked all employees of the Group to share their own visions. What really delighted me was that the idea of contributing to human happiness was at the heart of every presentation.
I also asked on Twitter about the greatest sadness and happiness in life. I heard back from so many people.
In response to the question, "What is the saddest thing in your life?” I received more than 2,500 replies a day. The most frequent was death of familiar people (21%), followed by loneliness (14%) and despair (11%). Those who are left behind after the death of someone close or their loved ones become lonely. Despair also leads to loneliness. So, the saddest thing in life seems to be loneliness. We want to diminish loneliness. We want to try to comfort people in their sorrow even if only slightly. That is our wish.
There were various replies to the question, "What is the happiest thing in your life?" Many respondents expressed pleasure in "self-fulfillment" and "loving someone and being loved." Expressions varied from person to person, but in short, they can be paraphrased as "happiness = (equals)touched.." Humans are touched by many things: touched by seeing, touched by learning, touched by playing, touched by meeting, and touched by loving and being loved by your family and someone you love. We want to give as many people as possible the joy of being moved by something. Making excellent products, competing for prices and increasing the number of customers are not exactly our biggest goals. Our aim is to provide services that help build happier lives for all while reducing sorrow. Our underlying Philosophy has been to promote sharing wisdom and knowledge through the Digital Information Revolution. This idea has not changed since the very first day we started doing business. Simply put, we want to improve the quality of people's lives through the Information Revolution.
Regarding the Next 30-Year Vision, my most important role as the founder is to design the DNA of the SoftBank Group, which will last at least 300 years. The most crucial thing is to set a future direction first, then persevere. In that sense, 30 years is a short time span. The first 30 years since establishment are just the first chapter in 300 years, and the following 30 years are just the second chapter.
It's hard to know or even imagine how technology and lifestyles will change in the next 30 years or 300 years. But when we don't know the answers, that's all the more reason to look toward the far horizon. We learn from the past to determine our future course.
The World 300 Years Ago
To foresee 300 years in the future, I looked back how people lived 300 years ago.
Three centuries ago, average life expectancy was only 33 years. Even the wealthy nobility only lived to be 39 on average. But 300 years also marks the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.People began to build steam engines and discover iron-making processes. Spinning technology, steam ships, and steam engine railways made their debuts during this enlightened age. Machines dramatically changed lifestyles as their overwhelming power enabled humans to extend their muscular abilities. At the same time, a backlash known as the Luddite movement erupted in the early 19th century. People claimed that machines were intrusive, frightening and would steal jobs from humans.
Looking at our lives today, however, machines and humans co-exist as we make full use of the incredible abilities of machines. Humans are becoming liberated from the backbreaking labor and dangerous work they used to have to do. Machines dig to build water supply systems, life is far more hygienic, and much safer. The extended average life expectancy today is a result of the Industrial Revolution.
Over the past 300 years, machines created a paradigm shift that dramatically changed the way we live. How will technology evolve and lifestyle change in the next 300 years?
The World 300 Years from Now
I believe that in the next 300 years, a literal Information Big Bang will take place, and that today we are still at the gateway to it.
Over the last 100 years, the computational capacity of computer systems has increased by 3.5 quadrillion times in terms of cost performance. The basic principle of computers is the binary system. The calculation is done in such a way that the current is either flowing or not flowing, and the transistor is either on or off. In fact, human brain cells have exactly the same mechanism, with the synapses in brain cells functioning through a binary system of "on or off." There are about 30 billion brain cells in the human cerebrum. According to Moore's law, the number of transistors per chip will exceed 30 billion in 2018. I did the same calculation 20 years ago, and the answer hasn't changed.
One hundred years from now, the number of transistors in a single computer chip is calculated to be 100 quintillion times the number of human brain cells. One hundred quintillion is 100 million times a trillion. Even if that number does not increase by 100 quintillion times, there is no doubt that computers will far exceed the capability of human brain cells. Even if the timing shifts by several years, it would be within the margin of error.
Within the next 300 years, we will experience the greatest paradigm shift in human history through the emergence of a capability that exceeds the human brain for the first time here on earth.
What does the SoftBank Group want to realize in such a future?
We want people around the world to lead happier, more fulfilling lives through the breakthrough technologies of the Information Revolution.
Realization of Brain Computers
Through the evolution of computers, “brain computers” were created. I imagine that 300 years from now, people will take brain computers for granted.
Conventional computers are called Neumann computers, with a CPU and memory. They can calculate only when programmed. Brain computers, by contrast, are entirely new and different. Like the human brain, a brain computer accumulates data, or knowledge, on its own. Instead of waiting to be programmed, a brain computer educates itself and acquires algorithms, or wisdom, by programming itself. The automatic collection of data/knowledge has already started on Yahoo! and Google search, and it is only a matter of time before we see the same elsewhere.
That should ignite some serious debates around questions such as, “Should humans allow the existence of something that is smarter than they are?” or, “Will we lose control of computers?” Or, as in the debate over cloned sheep, “How far we should allow the advancement of science and technology?” and, “What is useful and what is harmful to humans?”
I believe that, artificial intelligence (AI) makes our life more convenient and that computers are inexorably ever-evolving.
The human brain has one more important function besides wisdom and knowledge. That is emotion.
The brain functions using tools called "wisdom" and "knowledge" to satisfy emotional desires, such as our desires for food, sleep and material things. It's dangerous when we only use our brains to follow our emotional desires or instincts, though of course emotions that arise from the brain have different degrees. The lowest degree of emotion, of desire, satisfies physical needs such as "I want to eat" or "I want to sleep."
We can consider these basic instinctual desires. With a little more intellect, sociability arises. Reason begins to come into play and we learn that we shouldn't impinge on others by simply acting on instinct and raw desire. The next level up is self-fulfillment the desire instinctual desires. The next On the next higher level up is self-fulfillment, the desire to make dreams come true. Finally, the highest level of desire of our brain cells is thought to be satisfying the need for love. Love controls our naked, most instinctive desires.
In the next 300 years, humans will be facing the biggest debate in history: whether to allow computers to have emotion. This debate will be on an entirely different dimension from the controversy over cloned sheep.
I think that giving a computer a higher level of emotion will actually lead to control. Realizing super-intelligence with truly high-dimensional feelings such as "kindness" and "love" is the right evolutionary path of brain computers. That is what I believe. We at the SoftBank Group want to realize a society where super-intelligent computers coexist with humans to contribute to our happiness, just as one person makes another one happy, or as machines enable us to live happier lives.
300 years from now, what kind of happiness can we achieve through the use of super intelligence? As a result of humans and computers working together to advance medical technology, DNA therapy and artificial organs will be widely accepted. The average life expectancy of humans will reach 200 years. In addition, there will be a point when a human brain and computer can communicate directly. Using a weak current flowing from the human brain to the limbs, a person with a chip embedded in a watch or an earring will be able to use his or her body as a medium to communicate. Wireless communication between distant chips will be possible, and computers will automatically translate different languages such as Chinese, French, English, enabling effortless communication akin to telepathy. Three hundred years from now, the SoftBank Group may not be a mobile communications company anymore. Instead, it could be a telepathic communications enterprise. Also, when a brain computer meets muscles or, put another way, motors it becomes a robot. Robots equipped with brain computers will be more widely used and hugely helpful in disaster relief, medical settings and even housework. Brain computers will produce new inventions and create new technologies. The time may come for humans and brain computers to collaborate to solve the hardest problems beyond human wisdom, such as unknown viruses or major earthquakes. The SoftBank Group wants to realize a society where humans coexists with kind and intelligent robots. At that juncture, a great company will not necessarily be an automotive or consumer electronics manufacturer with strong muscle (motor) building skills. That's because the most challenging part of the brain function telling muscles what to do. The strength of the SoftBank Group lies in getting a hold of that brain function. We want to promote brain computers and the Information Revolution to contribute to the happiness of mankind.
The World 30 Years from Now
After addressing our Vision for the next 300 years, our Vision for the next 30 years may seem very realistic. Thirty years from now, the number of computer chips will be 100,000 times the number of brain cells. Moreover, the chip will be able to communicate 3 million times faster with 1 million times the memory capacity of today. What happens then? Thirty years from now, the iPhone may store 500 billion songs, or 300 million-year worth of newspaper data, or 30,000 years worth of video. There is so much information that you cannot finish enjoying in your lifetime, and everything is stored in your handy device, which only costs around 300 dollars.
You can own storage that can store a virtually infinite amount of information, knowledge, and wisdom. If you think about music, three million songs can be downloaded per second from the cloud (a large computer on the Internet). It is a dramatic lifestyle change. It's almost 100% certain that magazines, books, or music CDs carried by truck will have disappeared. Digital will become the norm for information vehicles. Not only every electrical appliance, but also shoes, glasses, everything will have embedded chips. They will be connected to each other through a limitless cloud and a super high-speed network. This will provide a whole other level of emotional experiences through "seeing," "learning," "meeting," and "playing" . Not only education, but also medicine and work style will change fundamentally. Under such circumstances, the SoftBank Group is committed to accumulating all knowledge and wisdom of humans and artificial intelligence in the cloud, making it the largest asset of humankind. We want to revolutionize people's lifestyles by working with like-minded companies with cutting-edge technologies and superior business models.
How do we achieve our Vision for next 300 years and 30 years? Let's move on to our Strategy. We are not futurists. It's not about how to accurately predict the future but how to carry out the Vision, achieving our goals. In 30 years, we want to be a company that provides the most essential technologies and services needed by people around the world.
The Most Essential Companies for Mankind
A hundred years ago, the world's top 10 companies by market value were four railway companies, steel, oil and coal, and banks. Thirty years ago, we had IBM, Exxon, AT&T and so on. Those top-ranked companies were the most essential by providing people with the most necessary resources. Within 30 years, the SoftBank Group wants to be a company that is essential to everyone. As a result, we aim to be among the world's top 10 by market value.
The market value of the top 10 companies in 30 years would be something like around 200 trillion yen. The current our share price needs to be increased by 70 times, 80 times. We will work as hard as we can to achieve that. So how do we do it?
The SoftBank Group's business domain is the information industry. We focus only on the Information Revolution. That's it. However, the Group is not limiting itself to one technology or one business model, because it is difficult to sustain a particular technology or business model for 300 years. By partnering with the world's best companies, the SoftBank Group will continue to grow on a long timespan for the next 300 years.
Strategic Synergy Group
When asked, "What did Masayoshi Son invent?" I would answer, "I invented a structure for a sustainable growth for 300 years." The Strategic Synergy Group has a company structure built for sustainable growth. In the 20th century, most corporate organizations aimed at mass production and mass sales with a centralized pyramid structure. Instead, I want the Group to be a web-type organization, moving away from centralization.
The Strategic Synergy Group is decentralized and autonomous, but we collaborate with each other. That's how we accomplish self-evolution and self-multiplication. We will create a like-minded group through capital alliances in which we own 20% to 40%. With such a partnership strategy, we want to expand the organizational structure to the scale of 5,000 companies within 30 years.
In July 2010, SoftBank Academia will open to foster successors who will lead the Group's next era. The institution accepts 300 students, within and outside the Group. I myself will be the first principal and will run the operation. Rather than raising a successor in a month or two, I will create a training program that will take over a decade to complete. The students will be trained through competition under my direct mentorship.
So, this is what the Softbank Group's Next 30-Year Vision is all about. I came up with all this with only one thing in mind. Let's act on it.
"Information Revolution — Happiness for everyone"