There could be a wild, sci-fi reason that SoftBank is spending $32 billion to buy mobile chip designer ARM Holdings

On the one hand, it makes perfect sense why the Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank would want to buy ARM Holdings, the chip designer that pretty much owns the mobile market.

SoftBank offered £17 a share in cash for ARM (about $32 billion). That was 43% more than ARM’s closing share price on Friday and 41% more than ARM’s all-time-high closing share price. This could be the largest-ever tech acquisition of a European company.

ARM helped propel the mobile device market forward by crafting designs for low-power microchips. It has done so well that it pretty much squeezed Intel right out of this huge, lucrative market.

The next step is the so-called Internet of Things, when everyday devices and appliances will get low-power chips and sensors to connect them to the internet. Your whole life, from your car to your toothbrush, will soon be controlled by an app. And IoT is already booming in the industrial world, with applications such as controlling how much to water crops and monitoring elevators.

But that may not be the only reason that SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son went to bat to buy ARM for such a high premium, IoT journalist Stacey Higginbotham writes on Medium.

Son is a firm believer in something known as the “singularity,” Higginbotham points out.

That’s the day when people and machines will supposedly “merge” to become something of a different species. Today we already use things like pacemakers and cochlear hearing implants. Tech companies are working on contacts that can monitor sugar levels. Biomed companies are working on a bionic pancreas as well as on mind-controlled 3D printed replacement limbs and tiny nanotechnology biologics that may cure cancer.

On top of that, our everyday life increasingly depends on technology to help us make decisions, with predictive analysis helping companies make sales predictions and self-driving technology helping us drive more efficiently.

Most of us already can’t leave home without our smartphones. In the future our very lives will depend on our collection of apps. Some kind of informational computer chip implanted directly into our bodies may seem less crazy in the future than it sounds today.

As Higginbotham notes, Son told the Nikkei Asian Review that he thought the singularity was coming fairly soon, too, perhaps in our children’s lifetimes.

“I think we are about to see the biggest paradigm shift in human history. The Singularity is coming. Artificial intelligence will overtake human beings not just in terms of knowledge, but in terms of intelligence. That will happen this century.”

“I still have unfinished business regarding the Singularity,” Son said. “I want to continue for at least another five years.”

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Pepper holding the hand of a newborn baby next to his mother at AZ Damiaan hospital in Ostend, Belgium.
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Thomson Reuters

Along with turning people into machines, SoftBank is also creating a robot that is much like a person: a robot called Pepper, who can read human emotions and is doing all sorts of customer-service jobs in Japan.

Between now and the singularity, SoftBank has plenty of other reasons to want to own ARM’s array of chip tech. ARM chips are powering today’s smartphones and tablets and other devices, and the company is also working on low-power chips for computer servers. It hopes to own 25% of that market by 2020, according to some reports.

That server tech is also a boon for SoftBank, a company that runs many data centers via its Japanese telecom company and Sprint. And it plans on more, as it builds out its artificial intelligence services.