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(Reuters) – SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said on Tuesday that Japan should make artificial intelligence (AI) a mandatory subject for college entrance exams to counter the yawning gap with the United States and China in the nascent field.

Japanese students “don’t study if they are not asked … let’s put it as mandatory, then Japanese students will catch up,” Son told a government conference aimed at fostering innovation.

The comments came as Son pointed to the widening gap in GDP and AI-related patents filed in Japan compared to China and the United States.

“Japan has lost the past, but may [also] be losing the future,” he said.


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Son said Japan should focus on two areas — autonomous driving and DNA-centered medicine — to help combat the pressures of its rapidly aging society, which is seeing a rise in traffic accidents involving elderly drivers and health care costs.

“Even today’s technology of autonomous driving is better than senior citizens driving on the street,” Son said.

SoftBank and its $100 billion Vision Fund have focused investments in these two areas, including in ride-hailer Uber and medical testing firm Guardant Health. Both companies have sold off shares in public markets recently.

As U.S.-China trade tensions create uncertainties along supply chains, Japan should leverage its close relationship with the United States to get ahead in cutting-edge tech, Son said.

“Instead of fighting against American technologies, let’s collaborate,” he said.

SoftBank last month announced it would scoop up messaging app operator Line, part of a wave of consolidation in Japan as U.S. tech giants make inroads.

(Reporting by Sam Nussey, editing by Arun Koyyur)

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