SoftBank's Vision Fund to hire China team, set up mainland office: sources

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The SoftBank-led Vision Fund is hiring an investment team to be based in China as the $100 billion investment giant expands in one of the world’s most vibrant tech markets, two people with direct knowledge of the move told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of SoftBank Group Corp is displayed at SoftBank World 2017 conference in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

The Vision Fund plans to open its first China office in Shanghai next year, followed by Beijing and Hong Kong. Altogether it hopes to hire about 20 people, said the people, who declined to be named as the information was confidential.

The Vision Fund raised more than $93 billion at its first close last May with investors including the sovereign wealth funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, Apple Inc and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd (Foxconn).

In a statement at the time, SoftBank said the fund was targeting a total of $100 billion within six months.

Earlier this year, the fund hired Eric Chen, who last worked as a Hong Kong-based managing director at private equity firm Silver Lake before setting up his own venture, to head its upcoming China team, the people added.

Chen joined SoftBank Investment Advisers, which oversees Vision Fund, as a partner in March and is based in San Francisco, according to his LinkedIn profile and confirmation from the people. He could not be reached for comment.

A SoftBank spokesman declined to comment.

Already this year the Vision Fund has moved to open offices in India, where it has spent $5 billion betting on the future of technology, and Saudi Arabia, home to its biggest backer – sovereign wealth fund PIF.

The openings come as the fund must manage its sprawling web of portfolio companies covering everything from shared working space to insurance and healthcare.

SoftBank is no stranger in China. Founder Masayoshi Son was an early backer of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group in 2000. Since 2013, SoftBank has invested over $13 billion in Chinese companies such as ride-hailing champion Didi Chuxing. The Vision Fund has made five investments in China, according to Refinitiv data.

Since its first close on May 17 last year, the Vision Fund has invested in truck-hailing company Man Bang Group, Ping An Healthcare and Technology Co, a one-stop healthcare platform backed by Ping An Insurance Group, and most recently Beijing Bytedance Technology Co, China’s largest media start-up managing news aggregator Toutiao and online short-video streaming app TikTok, the data showed.

Bytedance is valued at $75 billion in its latest fundraising, Reuters has reported.

The fund has also invested $500 million in the Chinese unit of U.S.-based shared working space provider WeWork Cos in July, as part of its support for WeWork’s global push.

Reporting by Kane Wu in Hong Kong, adiditonal reporting by Sam Nussey in Tokyo; Editing by Jennifer Hughes and Stephen Coates

A Sleeping Tesla Driver Highlights Autopilot's Biggest Flaw

As technology advances, so must policing. Last week, when a couple of California Highway Patrol officers spotted a man apparently sleeping in the driver’s seat of a Tesla Model S going 70 mph down Highway 101 in Palo Alto around 3:30 am, they moved behind the car and turned on their siren and lights. When the driver didn’t respond, the cops went beyond their standard playbook. Figuring the Tesla might be using Autopilot, they called for backup to slow traffic behind them, then pulled in front of the car and gradually started braking. And so the Tesla slowed down, too, until it was stopped in its lane.

“Our officers’ quick thinking got the vehicle to stop,” says CHP public information officer Art Montiel. The officers arrested the driver, identified in a police report as 45-year-old Alexander Joseph Samek of Los Altos, for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Neither the cops nor Tesla has confirmed whether the Model S had Autopilot engaged at the time. It seems likely it was, though, since the vehicle was staying in its lane and responding to vehicles around it, even though its driver didn’t wake up until the cops knocked on his window.

Tesla clearly tells its customers who pay the extra $5,000 for Autopilot that they are always responsible for the car’s driving, and that they must remain vigilant at all times. Driving drunk is illegal. And the vehicle’s sorta-self-driving tech may have prevented a crash. But if Autopilot did allow a slumbering and allegedly drunk driver to speed down the highway, it brings up another question: Is Elon Musk’s car company doing enough to prevent human abuse of its technology?

It’s long-standing but still-relevant criticism. Last year, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the 2016 death of an Ohio man whose Tesla hit a semi-truck while Autopilot was engaged concluded that Tesla bore some of the blame. When the oncoming truck turned across the path of the Tesla, the sedan didn’t slow down until impact. “The combined effects of human error and the lack of sufficient system controls resulted in a fatal collision that should not have happened,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the time.

Since then, Tesla has restricted how long a driver can go without touching the steering wheel before the receiving a warning beep. If they don’t respond, the system will eventually direct the car to stop and hit its hazard lights. That makes this incident a bit confusing, as Musk noted in a tweet:

The sensors in the steering wheel that register the human touch, though, are easy to cheat, as YouTube videos demonstrate. A well-wedged orange or water bottle can do the trick. Posters in online forums say they have strapped weights onto their wheels and experimented with Ziplock bags and “mini weights.” For a while, drivers even could buy an Autopilot Buddy “nag reduction device,” until the feds sent the company a cease-and-desist letter this summer.

All of which makes the design of similar systems offered by Cadillac and Audi look rather better suited to the task of keeping human eyes on the road, even as the car works the steering wheel, throttle, and brakes. Cadillac’s Super Cruise includes a gumdrop-sized infrared camera on the steering column that monitors the driver’s head position: Look away or down for too long, and the system issues a sharp beep. Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot does the same with an interior gaze-monitoring camera.

Humans being human, they will presumably find ways to cheat those systems (perhaps borrowing inspiration from Homer Simpson) but it’s clear a system that monitors where a driver is looking is more robust for this purpose than one that can be fooled by citrus.

It’s possible Tesla will give it a shot. The Model 3 comes with an interior camera mounted near the rearview mirror, and though the automaker hasn’t confirmed what it’s for, don’t be surprised if an over-the-air software update suddenly gives those cars the ability to creep on their human overlords.

And if that doesn’t work, well, there’s always the Ludovico Treatment. Or a car that does all the driving, no human needed.


More Great WIRED Stories

Fintech company Calastone to shift fund network to blockchain

LONDON (Reuters) – Calastone, an investment funds transaction network, said on Monday it will shift its entire system to blockchain in May, a move that could slash costs for the sector by billions of dollars a year.

London-based Calastone provides back and middle-office services to more than 1,700 firms such as JP Morgan Asset Management, Schroders and Invesco, helping them sell their funds across the world through banks and other local financial advisors.

The shift will see more than 9 million messages a month between those counterparties – worth more than 170 billion pounds ($217 billion)- completed on blockchain, marking a move into mainstream finance for a technology whose hype has rarely been matched by widespread usage in major industries.

Currently three separate messages are sent digitally between firms as they buy into a fund: one to place orders, another to confirm receipt, and a third to confirm the price.

Though more reliable than manual methods of communicating like faxes – still used by some in the industry – that messaging process is still cumbersome and time-consuming.

Moving to blockchain could slash as much as 3.4 billion pounds ($4.3 billion) a year in global fund industry costs by pooling trading and settlement processes, Calastone said, citing research by consultants Deloitte.

Savings on such a scale would be a boon to the fund industry as it is buffeted by investor pressure to lower fees – its main source of revenue – and rising costs, much of it linked to tougher regulations after the financial crisis.

“The more you can automate, the more you de-risk, you more you streamline, the more you speed up,” said Andrew Tomlinson, chief marketing officer at Calastone.

FROM HYPE TO REALITY?

Originally conceived to underpin the cryptocurrency bitcoin, blockchain is a shared database that can process and settle transactions in minutes. It does not need middlemen for checks and its entries cannot be changed, making it highly secure.

Proponents say it has the power to revolutionise industries from finance to shipping by making back office jobs more efficient. That prospect has sparked tests by banks and other financial companies across the world over the last few years.

But despite the hype, few blockchain projects have been put into practice in the finance sector, due in part to worries over costs, regulation and how widely used it can become.

Banks and asset managers are also concerned about the security of blockchain, said Matthias Huebner at consulting firm Oliver Wyman in Frankfurt.

“How secure is the technology? Is there a risk of fraud? Is there a risk of data just getting lost?” he said.

Still, Calastone said all of its users would see their trades move to the blockchain.

JP Morgan Asset Management and Invesco – listed as clients on Calastone’s website – declined to comment on the shift when contacted by Reuters. Schroders, also listed as a client, did not respond to a request for comment.

Beyond finance, the majority of blockchain projects launched so far have been in peripheral industries such as ticketing or food supply chains.

Recently, though, others have been launched in the commodities sector, suggesting that the technology is catching on in major sectors.

Big oil companies and trading firms, for instance, are now able to finalise crude oil deals on a blockchain-based platform.

Reporting by Tom Wilson and Simon Jessop, editing by Louise Heavens