OpenAI in talks with Jony Apple Ive and Softbank over iPhone-but-for-AI monster

So, a portable Alexa or Google Home-esque gadget?

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and the former Apple chief design officer Jony Ive are reportedly planning to spin up a startup with backing from Softbank to develop some kind of personal AI-powered hardware device.

Ive left Apple in 2019 and launched his own creative agency LoveFrom with industrial designer Marc Newson. During his 27-year stint at Apple, Ive helped design some of Cupertino's key products, including its line of iPods, iPhones, iMacs, and Macbooks.

The pair, Ive and Newson, have reportedly held multiple discussions at OpenAI's headquarters in San Francisco over what the device, described as the "iPhone of artificial intelligence" by the Financial Times, might look like. 

Softbank, the Japanese investment firm led by Masayoshi Son, is reportedly interested in funding the new venture, and believes Arm-based chips could power the potential future gizmo. Softbank is the majority shareholder in Arm, holding a 90 percent stake in the British hardware design firm after the recent IPO filing. 

The talks are said to be "serious," but no official deal has been agreed upon.  

Altman is a major investor in Humane, a startup building a gadget named Ai Pin that acts as a virtual assistant that can respond to speech commands and is designed to be clipped to a lapel.

Humane has previously said that a "collaboration with OpenAI will integrate its technology into the Humane device," The Information reported.

Founded in 2015, OpenAI started out as a not-for-profit research lab focused on developing artificial general intelligence and changed into a for-profit operation in 2019. One year later, it launched GPT-3, its first commercial product. 


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Since then, the startup has released numerous generative AI models, including the viral ChatGPT app, and has partnered with Microsoft to integrate OpenAI's deep neural networks into Redmond's applications, OSes, and cloud services. Altman would be leading the development of AI hardware for the first time if the potential new spin-off takes off, it's reported.

Altman is also reportedly in talks with investors to raise money for OpenAI, too. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the outfit is discussing selling employee shares to VC firms in a deal that could increase its valuation up to $90 billion. OpenAI sold $300 million worth of shares at a $30 billion valuation earlier this year. 

Other Big Tech firms have already built netizen-focused AI-powered hardware devices, including virtual assistant speakers such as Amazon's Alexa, Google's Nest, Apple's HomePod, as well as Meta's latest Ray-Ban sunglasses.

So OpenAI coming up with its own physical digital assistant isn't that much of a stretch: it's just another way to access its neural networks, this time from a dedicated possibly handheld device rather than an official app, website, or API.

And we can't help but note that Softbank wants to get its name into the mix, talking up the role its Arm processor designer might play in it, as if Arm doesn't already design the CPU cores in more than half the stuff in your home.

The Register has asked OpenAI, LoveFrom, and Softbank for further comment. ®

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