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- Eugene Izhikevich is the cofounder and CEO of Brain Corp, a San Diego-based software company which converts manual machines into autonomous robots.
- In 2017, Brain Corp raised $114 million in a series C funding round led by Japan’s SoftBank.
- As a result of Brain Corp’s SoftBank connection, Izhikevich is an acquaintance and friend of Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s enigmatic CEO.
- Izhikevich spoke to Business Insider about what Son is like as a person, why he likes to speak in English, and why they both view the world the same way.
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With a $100 billion pot of cash at his disposal and dizzying network of startup investments under his wing, it’s probably fair to say that SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has a lot of conversations with a lot of people.
Despite this, the Japanese investor remains something of an enigma, both in terms of his character and the process by which he goes through to pick his investments.
But one founder who claims to know Son well is Eugene Izhikevich, a former Russian navy officer who cofounded AI robot company Brain Corp.
San Diego-based Brain Corp raised $114 million in a series C funding round led by SoftBank in 2017. It is using the money to turn manual industrial machines into autonomous robots, like cleaning robots for Walmart.
‘He’s very soft-spoken and very humble’
As a result of SoftBank’s investment in Brain Corp, Izhikevich and Son – whom Izhikevich affectionately calls ‘Masa’ – often meet to discuss work, and along the way contemplate some of life’s biggest questions. Izhikevich says Son the person is not what you would expect, given his status.
"You would be surprised, because when you talk to him, he’s very soft-spoken and very humble. He’s now probably one of the most important technologists on this planet. But by the way he behaves, the way he dresses, you’d never guess it," he explains.
Both Son and Izhikevich share a belief in the long-term benefits of AI. Last month, Bloomberg reported that SoftBank is planning a fresh $55 million fund specifically for investment in AI startups. This common ground has been a key part of their relationship.
"So many boxes were checked when I met Masa: same vision, wants to help his country, has the same passion. Every time I go to Japan I have meetings with him and we just share stories and talk about the future," Izhikevich says.
"I have this vision of robots taking care of us, and it turns out he had the same vision before me. He has a three hundred year plan; his vision is about AI and robotics, and automation. So when I met him, it was like meeting my biggest soulmate with respect to how we see the world."
He adds that Son is in a rush to realize his ambitions — "when he talks to me, he’s not wasting time" — which is possibly why Izhikevich has not been able to practise his Japanese with his investor. He has been learning the language for some time, but Son seems to prefer English.
"I talk Japanese to Masa, but he switches to English immediately," says Izhikevich. "His English is very good. He doesn’t want to waste his time talking Japanese to me. I’ve tried multiple times, but after the first few seconds, he replies in English."
Izhikevich describes learning and speaking Japanese as "a hobby, other than golfing on the weekends." But there are deeper reasons underpinning his decision to learn the language.
"Research shows that if people become fluent in a foreign language late in life, they practically eliminate Alzheimer’s," he says. "I’m 52, and more than 50 means late in life, so becoming fluent in Japanese I can eliminate one of the major causes of death. It’d be a personal achievement I could be proud of."
As well as the desire to prevent Alzheimer’s, there is also a business-related motive behind Izhikevich’s decision.
‘In Japan, they’re much more receptive to robots’
"In Japan, they have a demographic crisis in terms of filling jobs and the population’s age," he explains. "There are not enough people to do cleaning, deliveries, restocking.
"So one of the reasons I learned Japanese as opposed to Spanish – which would have been much easier here in California – is that I believe there is huge potential for Brain Corp’s technology in Japan and Asia, just because of the demographics of those countries. [Those countries] have no choice but to embrace robotics.
"Japan is very interesting, actually, because in Japan they’re very respectful of robots, either due to the Shinto religion – where everything has a soul – or because of all their movies, anime and so on, show robots making our lives easier."
SoftBank’s Son and Izhikevich may not share much in Japanese, but they agree on a future in which AI and robotics are a core part of human existence.
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