SoftBank Group, NVIDIA CEOs on What’s Next for AI

by Brian Caulfield

Good news: AI will soon be everywhere. Better news: it will be put to work by everyone.

Sharing a vision of AI enabling humankind, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang Wednesday joined Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank Group Corp., as a guest for his keynote at the annual SoftBank World conference.

“For the first time, we’re going to democratize software programming,” Huang said. “You don’t have to program the computer; you just have to teach the computer.”

Son is a legendary entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist who pioneered the development of the PC industry, the internet and mobile computing in Japan.

A Technological Jewel

The online conversation comes six weeks after NVIDIA agreed to acquire Arm from SoftBank in a transaction valued at $40 billion. Huang described Arm as “one of the technology world’s great jewels” in his conversation with Son (see video, below).

“The reason why combining Arm and NVIDIA makes so much sense is because we can then bring NVIDIA’s AI to the most popular edge CPU in the world,” Huang said while seated beside the fireplace of his Silicon Valley home.

Arm has long provided its intellectual property to many chipset vendors, who deploy it on many different applications, in many different systems-on-a-chip, or SoCs, Son explained.

Huang said the combined company would “absolutely” continue this.

An Ecosystem Like No Other

“Of course the CPU is fantastic, energy-efficient and it’s improving all the time, thanks to incredible computer scientists building the best CPU in the world,” Huang said. “But the true value of Arm is in the ecosystem of Arm — the 500 companies that use Arm today.”

That ecosystem is growing fast. Son said it won’t be long until a trillion Arm-based SoCs have been shipped. Making NVIDIA AI available to those trillion chipsets “will be an amazing combination,” Son said.

“Our dream is to bring NVIDIA’s AI to Arm’s ecosystem, and the only way to bring it to the Arm ecosystem is through all of the existing customers, licensees and partners,” Huang said. “We would like to offer the licensees more, even more.”

Arm, Son said, provides toolsets to enable companies to create SoCs for very different applications, from game machines and home appliances to robots that fly or run or swim. These devices will, in turn, communicate with cloud AI “so each of them become smarter.”

“That’s the reason why combining Arm and NVIDIA makes so much sense because we can then bring NVIDIA AI to the most popular edge CPU in the world,” Huang said (see video, below).

‘Intelligence at Scale’

That will allow even more companies to participate in the AI boom.

“AI is a new kind of computer science; the software is different, the chips are different, the methodology is different,” Huang said.

It’s a huge shift, Son agreed.

First, Son said, computers enabled advancements in calculation; next, came the ability to store massive amounts of data; and “now, finally, computers are the ears and the eyes, so they can recognize voice and speech.”

“It’s intelligence at scale,” Huang responded. “That’s the reason why this age of AI is such an important time.”

Extending Human Capabilities

Son and Huang spoke about how enterprises worldwide — from AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline in drug discovery, to American Express in banking, to Walmart in retail, to Microsoft in software, to Kubota in agriculture — are now adopting NVIDIA AI tools.

Huang cited a new generation of systems, called recommender systems, that are already helping humans sort through vast array choices available online in everything from what clothes they wear to what music they listen to.

Huang and Son describe such systems — and AI more broadly — as a way to extend human capabilities.

“Humans will always be in the loop,” Huang said.

“We have a heart, a desire to be nice to other humans,” Son said. “We will utilize AI as a tool, for our happiness, for our joy — humans will choose which recommendations to take.”

‘Perpetually Learning Machines’

Such intelligent systems are being woven into the world around us, through smart, connected systems, or “edge AI,” Son said, which will work hand in hand with powerful cloud AI systems able to aggregate input from devices in the real world.

The result will be a “learning loop,” or “perpetually learning machines,” Huang said.

“The cloud side will aggregate information from edge AI, it will become smarter and smarter,” Son said.

Democratizing AI

One result: computing will finally be democratized, Huang said. Only a small number of people want to pursue a career as a computer programmer, but “everyone can teach,” Huang said.

“You [will] just ask the computer, ‘This is what I want to do, can you give me a solution?,’” Son responded. “Then the computer will give us the solution and the tools to make it happen.”

Such tools will amplify Japan’s strengths in precision engineering and manufacturing.

“This is the time of AI for Japan,” Huang said.

Huang described how, in tools such as NVIDIA Omniverse, a digital factory can be continually optimized.

“This robotic factory will be filled with robots that will build robots in virtual reality,” Huang said. “The whole thing will be simulated … and when you come in in the morning the whole thing will be optimized more than it was when you went to bed.”

Once it’s ready, a physical twin of the digital factory can be built and continually optimized with lessons learned in the virtual one.

“It’s the concept of the metaverse” Son said, referring to the shared, online world of imagined in Neal Stephensen’s 1992 cyberpunk classic, “Snow Crash.”

“… and it’s right in front of us now,” Huang added.

Connecting Humans with One Another

In addition to extending human capabilities with AI, it will help humans better connect with one another.

Video conferencing will soon be the vast majority of the world’s internet traffic, Huang said. Using AI to reconstruct a speaker’s facial expressions can “reduce bandwidth” by a factor of 10.

It can also unleash new capabilities, such as the ability for a speaker to make direct eye contact with 20 different people watching simultaneously, or real-time language translation.

“So you can speak to me in the future in Japanese and I can speak to you in English, and you will hear Japanese and I will hear English,” Huang said.

Enabling Big Dreams

Melding human judgment and AI, adaptive, autonomous machines and tightly connected teams of people will give entrepreneurs, philanthropists and others with “big wishes and big dreams” the ability to tackle ever more ambitious challenges, Huang said.

Son said AI is playing a role in the development of technologies that can detect heart attacks before they happen, speed the discovery of new treatments for cancer, and eliminate car accidents, among others.

“It is a big help,” Son said. “So we should be having a big smile, and big excitement, welcoming this revolution in AI.”

Watch the full conversation, below.