Saturday, September 23, 2017

You Understand Why Mr. Son and SoftBank Are Circling Uber, Right?

It's been right there in front of us for a year. Think back to a couple posts from 2015:

Big Money: Uber Guts Carnegie Mellon Robotics Lab To Hire Autonomous Car Developers
"Uber Is Stealing Scientists, But Only So It Can Lay Off Drivers"

Mr. Son doesn't care about the taxi company, he's got taxi companies. SoftBank wants those roboticists and artificial intelligence mavens Uber poached from Carnegie-Mellon.

As noted in the introduction to last November's "Interview: Manuela Veloso Head of Machine Learning, Carnegie Mellon University":
Our readers probably know Carnegie Mellon more for the  top-ranked financial engineering program (Master of Science in Computational Finance) but artificial intelligence was pretty much invented at CMU by Herbert Simon and Allen Newell. Simon received the Nobel in Economics but it actually could have been for any of four or five subjects, he was quite the polymath.

Newell had to settle for the Turing award (along with Simon) from the Association for Computing Machinery, probably the root'in-tootin high-falootinest tchotchke in the computer biz.
The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence along with the ACM subsequently named an award in Newell's honor. Ditto for CMU.

The University's machine learning department was the first in the world to offer a doctorate and as far as I know is still the largest.
A department, for one branch of AI.

Carnegie-Mellon used to have a world class robotics Institute but Uber gutted it with a combination of cash and stock options leaving a Dean and a couple robots to rebuild.
One of the robots is said to be in advanced negotiations with the Ube-sters....
Reuters Breakingviews put it together in a headline a week ago:

Breakingviews - AI is the big driver of SoftBank’s Uber move
HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - Artificial intelligence is the backseat driver of SoftBank’s move on Uber. Masayoshi Son’s tech and telecoms group is close to investing $10 billion in the U.S. ride-hailing giant, the Wall Street Journal says. That reflects the Japanese maverick’s belief in the disruptive power of self-driving cars. 

On the face of it, taxi apps sound less exciting than other technologies praised by Son, such as robotics or computational biology. But Son believes autonomous cars will reshape transport. Hence a recent $5 billion investment in China’s Didi Chuxing, plus stakes in India’s Ola, Singapore’s Grab and Brazil’s 99. 

The outlay would be enormous - but Son needs megadeals to feed his $93 billion-plus Vision Fund. And Uber’s recent disarray may have convinced him he can haggle over the price. SoftBank might buy $1 billion of stock from Uber itself, in line with its last $68 billion valuation, and the rest from existing shareholders at a 30 percent-plus discount, the WSJ says. But that still places a high valuation on Uber, testifying to Son’s optimism. 

In the best-case scenario, the market expands as private car ownership shrinks. Uber could have major market power in buying fleets of vehicles, and in setting prices for riders, while steering around the cost of human drivers. Son could also help damp competition between his fleet of investees, and push for consolidation. Or Uber could simply entrench itself as a valuable platform for hiring cabs, ordering takeaway, making payments, and other services, even if autonomous cars are slow to arrive....MORE
Now think about SoftBank's flagship acquisition, the purchase of the crown jewel of Britain's tech biz, ARM Holdings last September.
£24 Billion/$31 Billion cash

That's what really got the ball rolling in SoftBank's universe. 

I'm not kidding when I say it's a crown jewel. Three years earlier we had posted a Quartz story with the headline "The most overwhelmingly positive annual report you will ever see out of any technology company".

In July 2016 Mr. Son explained some of his reasoning for the ARMH bid: "This Tech CEO Says He's Ready to Take on Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple".

What on earth is Mr. Son up to? 

Well I think we know what Mr. Son and SoftBank are up to.