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Softbank, Univ. of Tokyo to set up AI tech research lab next spring

SoftBank Group Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son, left, shakes hands with Makoto Gonokami, president of the University of Tokyo, at a press conference in Tokyo, on Dec. 6, 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese wireless carrier SoftBank Corp. and the University of Tokyo said Friday they have agreed to jointly set up a research institute to develop artificial intelligence technologies next spring.

Under their plan to establish the "Beyond AI Institute," the university will develop AI technologies with top-level Japanese and foreign researchers while SoftBank will provide about 20 billion yen ($184 million) over the next 10 years and business opportunities to earn more returns for further research and development activities, they said.

SoftBank Group Corp., the parent firm of the mobile phone service provider, has been known to be eager to invest in AI-related tech startups, such as Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and U.S. ride-hailing service operator Uber Technologies Inc., with its nearly $100 billion Vision Fund.

"We would like to combine fundamental research and business by providing funds," SoftBank Group Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son said at a press conference in Tokyo.

As for patents related to AI technology, they have been dominated by the United States and China. "Japan has lagged far behind the two countries in the development of AI technology," Son added.

SoftBank and the university expect to develop the program sustainably by commercializing their development results on AI technologies in such fields as medicine and autonomous driving in collaboration with joint ventures with other companies, they said.

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