The Origin of Sony AI
Since the early days of my academic career, I’ve had a strong desire to understand the universe, life, and intelligence, and a deep passion for designing and building electronic devices — mostly audio systems. After I challenged myself in particle physics — where I had a lot of fun trying to develop a quantum field theory of tachyonic particles — I turned my attention to artificial intelligence. Since then, I’ve gained increasing confidence in the future of AI and Robotics and how such technologies will become an integral part of human society, working in harmony with people.
I’ve also come to believe that technological breakthrough is not possible without an audacious goal. This is the reason why, for example, when I co-founded RoboCup in the early 90s with Professor Manuela Veloso at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Minoru Asada at Osaka University, Itsuki Noda at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and others, we set an ambitious goal, proposing that, “By the middle of the 21st century, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win a soccer game, complying with the official rules of FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.”
Since then, RoboCup has become a huge success, accelerating research, education, industrial applications, and spin-offs involving thousands of researchers and millions of students from over 35 countries.
My experience and learning from RoboCup led me to launch the “Scientific Discovery Grand Challenge” in 2016. This new grand challenge encourages AI researchers to create AI systems that make major scientific discoveries, especially in systems biomedicine — some of which may be worthy of the Nobel Prize and other accolades.
Keeping with the approach of “Grand Challenges,” I established Sony AI to achieve technical breakthroughs in two areas that are exciting and have high impact: AI and Robotics. And I believe the success of “Grand Challenges” depends on how precisely you can define your vision — one that is audacious and realistic in the long run, and is coupled with a strategic game plan. Just after the formation of Sony AI, I came across the below speech by one of Sony’s founders, Masaru Ibuka, made back in 1960.
I knew that both of Sony’s founders envisioned a bold future from the early days, but I was impressed that Ibuka-san foresaw AI-empowered medical diagnosis as well as autonomous driving 60 years ago. Listening to his speech reaffirmed to me that not only does the “Grand Challenge” approach fit with Sony’s DNA, but it also enables us to continue Ibuka-san’s legacy and pursue Sony’s dreams.
AI for Entertainment
Sony AI’s mission is to “unleash human imagination and creativity through AI.” This reflects our fundamental philosophy in the relationship we seek between humans and technology. Our approach in bringing AI into the realm of entertainment, which is one of the distinct characteristics of our civilization and a source of inspiration, is what makes Sony AI very unique. Through our research in AI, we want to contribute to enhancing the imagination and creativity of artists, creators, and makers beyond what is possible today.
In addition, Sony AI builds on Sony’s long history of creative and technological innovation in entertainment on a global scale. As modern-day entertainment is a heavily technology-driven enterprise, building a stronger technology base is essential to empowering creators and helping us to provide even more excitement and memorable moments to audiences, users, and players.
Sony AI Flagship Projects
Based on our mission, we have carefully selected our first three flagship projects. These projects, unique to Sony AI, leverage Sony’s leading position in Gaming and Imaging and Sensing, as well as its expertise in working alongside creators throughout the entertainment industry.
In the realm of Gaming, we are actively working with Sony Interactive Entertainment, aka the PlayStation team, to incorporate AI into gaming in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, there are also interesting developments occurring in the realm of sensor-robotics-AI integration. We look forward to sharing our work in these areas in due course.
And the Gastronomy project represents our journey into uncharted territory. Here, our aim is to develop technology for chefs that empowers them to be even more creative, while also helping them to develop more sustainable and healthier menus, and make them more widely available.
Sony AI has a strong desire to be an active participant and helpful member of the gastronomy community, contributing to the recovery of the restaurant industry as well as exploring new horizons in the field. As such, we have conducted a series of interviews with leading chefs and professionals in the industry to initiate a dialogue on how AI and other technology may help transform gastronomy.
In addition to these flagship projects, we are very focused on researching and developing AI for good in order to make meaningful social contributions to the world. AI ethics is one of our focus areas to ensure trustworthy AI, and a series of new initiatives may emerge in this area as we move forward. Sustainability is another area we consider critically important as an organization. While there is a range of research and activities underway in the effort to build a sustainable future within Sony Group — from agriculture to energy projects — Sony AI’s engagement will start with its Gastronomy flagship project, aiming at imagining creative yet sustainable and healthy cuisine.
Our Sony AI team comprises top AI researchers and engineers from around the world, establishing it as one of the most unique and talented groups globally. We are actively looking to grow our team with the best and brightest talent internationally. We’re excited to work with individuals who want to make our future a better place, and those that not only envision a bold future but wish to realize it together with us. So, if you’re interested in joining our team, please get in touch with us!
Finally, we are introducing this blog as a forum to share our progress, research and insights with the AI community and all interested; we look forward to hearing from you.
Dr. Hiroaki Kitano
Sony AI, CEO
Dr. Hiroaki Kitano is CEO of Sony AI Inc. Additionally, he is Executive Vice President and Officer in charge for AI Collaboration for Sony Corporation and CEO of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. He also serves as the director of Sony Global Education. He is the Founding President of the RoboCup Federation, a recipient of The Computers and Thought Award in 1993 and Nature Award for Creative Mentoring in Science (Mid-carrier award) in 2009. He has served as the president of International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence (2009-2011) and has served as a member of scientific advisory boards for numerous academic institutions including European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). He currently serves as a professor at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate School. Most recently he was named a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (2021).