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SoftBank Unveils SB Intuitions: Bringing OpenAI to Japan with Homegrown LLMs and Generative AI in Japanese

SoftBank, the renowned tech company, has recently made a bid to cater to the Japanese market by launching SB Intuitions, a new venture focused on developing homegrown Large Language Models (LLM) specifically designed for the Japanese language. The company also intends to offer generative AI services based on Japanese data.

Though the announcement lacks some specifics, here’s what we do know so far. SB Intuitions will be fully owned by SoftBank itself, with no immediate plans to involve external investors. Data for the project will only be sourced from Japan-based data centers, but further details about the data sources and agreements have not been disclosed yet. The company is likely to leverage its substantial consumer and enterprise operations in Japan to support the venture.

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The groundwork for SB Intuitions was initially laid out in March of the same year, and the name and detailed plans are being revealed only now. To power the service, SoftBank will utilize a powerful computing platform built on Nvidia GPUs, which can also be used for developing generative AI and other applications. This platform is expected to be operational before the end of March 2024.

The new business will be headed by Hironobu Tamba, a long-time SoftBank employee who has been leading the AI and IoT division. SB Intuitions is starting with a paid-in capital sum of 150 million yen (approximately $1 million USD). However, SoftBank hasn’t disclosed the total investment it intends to make in this initiative.

Comparing the financial aspect of SB Intuitions with OpenAI, which has raised over $11 billion and is valued at nearly $30 billion, illustrates the substantial funds required for ambitious companies focusing on LLMs and generative AI services.

SoftBank’s journey with AI has been a mix of hits and misses. The company recognized the significance of AI long before the current AI hype but hasn’t seen significant success in the services it developed in-house or the partnerships it formed. SoftBank has been a prominent AI investor, spending around $140 billion on approximately 400 investments, with the Vision Fund being its largest effort. However, the company has struggled to capitalize on the current wave of AI developments.

Now, with the launch of SB Intuitions, SoftBank aims to address the missed opportunities in the AI space and pursue a more significant, existential concept. SoftBank’s CEO and president, Junichi Miyakawa, emphasized that generative AI will be of unparalleled importance, comparing it to milestones like search engines, operating systems, and the cloud in the internet’s evolution. Currently, major players developing large language models are foreign companies, but SoftBank seeks to change that by creating a domestically-produced generative AI tailored to Japanese language and culture. This will enable the system to handle unique expressions used in public and medical services.

Moreover, SoftBank has entered into a strategic alliance with Microsoft, wherein SoftBank will provide a secure data environment for Japanese enterprises interested in Microsoft’s AI and generative AI initiatives. Additionally, SoftBank will internally use Microsoft’s Copilot service.

The CEO further added that SB Intuitions would not only develop its own large language models but also establish a multi-generative AI system that selects the most suitable model for clients’ needs from various models developed by OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, and other companies. This approach ensures a comprehensive and effective generative AI solution for its clientele.