Disruption and Disruptors, Part 1: Initiatives of the Disruptors

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4 October 2015
Eiichiro Yanagawa

SoftBank Corp. and SoftBank Commerce & Service Corp. held a massive two-day event for corporate customers on July 30 and 31. A record nearly 20,000 people turned out to participate in SoftBank World 2015. The fourth iteration of the event, it featured keynote addresses from SoftBank management and guests as well as 73 special speeches and sessions.

This post illustrates how Japan’s mobile carriers, which have disrupted the mobile phone industry, are creating technology businesses that will form the core of the mobile Internet era. This is instructive in that it illuminates elements that will be essential for creative destruction. Ultimately, the challenges undertaken by mobile carriers should serve as a significant catalyst for the financial services industry.

I have broken this post down into three parts. The first addresses the initiatives of management. The second is about how the application of new technology is disruptive to existing and established ways of thinking. The third touches upon how disruptive technologies engender innovation in the user experience (UX).

1. The Information Revolution: Stepping from Today into the World of the Future (Masayoshi Son keynote session):

In his keynote talk, Chairman Son gave three spheres of technology that will drive the information revolution: Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and smart robots.

  • IoT: IoT is at the heart of almost all industries today. People do not exist in isolation and they communicate. The world is moving toward a time when all things—people and things—will be connected. Just as the smartphone dramatically changed the way we live, IoT will similarly precipitate an industrial revolution.
  • AI: Artificial intelligence is just around the corner. The year 2018 is supposed to mark the crossover point when transistors in machines are to supersede the capacity of brain cells synapses . The roughly 30 billion cells in the human brain will not change, but the number of transistors will and the singularity —the day when artificial intelligence transcends that of human—will come. AI will make it possible to handle tasks that people find distasteful, and allow mankind to change and focus attention on more worthwhile themes and endeavours. This too will be the starting point of a revolution.
  • Smart robots: SoftBank aspires to offer smart robots that maximize the use of artificial intelligence rooted in enhanced knowledge and intelligence rather than robots that do mechanical tasks. By 2040, any product that moves will be a smart robot—meaning they will be equipped with AI. Moreover, their total number will eclipse the number of people on earth. If the age of AI is inevitable, then we should strive to create robots that are pure of heart and have a kind view toward people. We want to create robots that can emulate the creation of emotions like people and can think and move on their own.

SoftBank’s approach is one in which its mobile Internet operations will be at the heart of its IoT initiatives; collaboration with IBM’s Watsonwill be at the core of its AI work; and, Pepper for Bizwill be the key to SoftBank’s smart robot initiatives.

Management at SoftBank is committed to efforts in these three spheres and to realize a growth strategy enabled by synergies between the latest technology and business models.

SoftBank simultaneously announced the themes for the inaugural year of the SoftBank Innovation Program, under which it will solicit innovative solutions and technologies from around the world with an eye to jointly commercializing them. The four key themes are smart homes, connected vehicles, digital marketing, and healthcare .

Financial services were not included, but will likely be indirectly affected because initiatives in the areas of residences, vehicles, marketing, and medicine will impact the lives of consumers and can be expected to spillover into the financial services industry. Put another way, this raises the question what financial services existing financial service providers can offer to digitally savvy companies and consumers familiar with the latest in technology (IoT, AI, and smart robots). These firms must both be firmly in step with the latest in digital consumer trends as well as be able to respond to digital technological developments such as in these areas—IoT, AI, and smart robots—if they are to be able to take the initiative.

Disruptions continue to take place outside financial organizations and the financial industry; these disruptors—the entities precipitating these disruptive activities—are driven by entrepreneurs with an understanding of technology than transcends that of financial service providers.


SoftBank World 2015 Keynote Session Masayoshi Son


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