Sony to spend $18.4bn on strategic investments over next 3 years

Its AI subsidiary is developing smarter opponents and teammates for PlayStation games

Photo: EPA The Sony logo is seen on a building in Tokyo, Japan, 28 April 2021

Sony Group said on Wednesday it will spend 2 trillion yen ($18.39bn) over the next three years on strategic investments, including a push to expand subscribers to its gaming and entertainment services. Company's main aim is to accelerate investments in mobile and online services henceforth expanding the number of consumers directly connected to its services to 1 billion people from 160 million.

As it streamlines its consumer electronic business, Sony is focusing more on movies, games and other content it sells through platforms such as its PlayStation games console.

The company is benefiting from strong demand for its PlayStation 5 launched in core markets in November. A global shortage of chips, however, means Sony is unable to keep up with demand for the games console, which it wants to use to encourage online game downloads and sign-ups for subscription services.

In the business year that started April 1, Sony aims to ship 14.8 million PlayStation 5 consoles.

To do that it has also established a cooperation with its quietly launched subsidiary dedicated to researching artificial intelligence.

“Sony AI [...] has begun a collaboration with PlayStation that will make game experiences even richer and more enjoyable,” say notes from a recent strategy presentation given by Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida. “By leveraging reinforcement learning, we are developing Game AI Agents that can be a player’s in-game opponent or collaboration partner.”

This is pretty much what you’d expect from a partnership between PlayStation and Sony’s AI team, but it’s still good to have confirmation! Reinforcement learning, which relies on trial and error to teach AI agents how to carry out tasks, has proved to be a natural fit for video game environments, where agents can run at high speeds under close observation. It’s been the focus of heavy-hitting research, like DeepMind’s StarCraft II AI.

Other big tech companies with gaming interests such as Microsoft are also exploring this space. But while Microsoft’s efforts are tilted towards pure research, Sony’s sound like they’re more focused on getting this research out of the lab and into video games, pronto. The end result should be smarter teammates as well as opponents.

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