Yesterday, Ken Kutaragi, the ‘Father of PlayStation’, revealed that he was working on something “totally cool“, but wouldn’t give any details about what it was. Now, we’ve discovered hints at just what the engineering genius is cooking up.
Kutaragi, who is best known for spearheading the development and creation of the PlayStation, actually made his first mark in the gaming world by designing the SPC700, an unrivaled audio chip for the SNES. This design – initially kept secret from Sony for fear of it being scrapped – was the first step in cementing a relationship between Sony and Nintendo. In fact, when Sony executives found out about Kutaragi’s chip, he almost lost his job, only to be saved by Norio Ohga, who was president of Sony from 1982 to 1989, and CEO from 1989 to 1999.
Ohga remained supportive of Kutaragi, giving him approval to start work on the Play Station, a Sony branded console which could play SNES-CD games or Nintendo cartridges. Nintendo, however, got cold feet at the idea of handing so much control over to Sony, and suddenly publicly announced a deal with Philips at CES – catching Sony off guard, who had been promoting the idea of the Play Station only the day before. Once again, Kutaragi’s position was in crisis, only to be saved by continued support from Ohga.
This support allowed Kutaragi to continue his work on the Play Station, which, by 1993, would be known as the PlayStation. When the console launched in 1994, it was immediately clear the product was a success, and so Kutargi’s position grew and grew, allowing him to spend over $2.5 billion on researching and developing the PS2. The PS2 then managed to even eclipse the success of the PS1, strengthening Kutargi’s position in the company even further.
But with Ohga’s retirement, Kutaragi’s lack of success with other Sony products in the consumer electronics division and the enormous costs of the PS3’s R&D and retail price, his remarkable rise to the top was abruptly ended. With investors concerned about the true cost of the PS3, and the strength of its competitors, Kutaragi retired on April 26th 2007 (widely believed to not be voluntary) and was given the non-job position of Honorary Chairman.
From there, Kutaragi became CEO of Cellius, a Sony-Namco Bandai partnership with the vague aim to “help take share from Microsoft Corp. and Nintendo Co.” With an initial investment of $824,000, it’s unsure what the company actually did for the first few years, with the first publicly announced project being the PlayStation Vita title, Ridge Racer.
Kutaragi then went on to form his own startup at the end of 2009, called Cyber Ai Entertainment. Unlike Cellius, Kutaragi owned 90% of the company, with the other 10% owned by former Sony engineer Takashi Usuki – although current figures are not known. At the time, Kutaragi talked about what the company – which had a capital of $222,500 – was planning to do:
We’ll initially focus on research and development relating to information processing, targeting cutting-edge networking operations
Since then, it’s clear that the company has raised more funding, with Cyber Ai’s site showing a capital of 99,000,000 yen ($1.26 million). The site’s about page also hints at their current project, which we’ve translated with the help of Google and our resident Japan-expert Heath Hindman:
- Research and Development of real-time information processing systems
- Research and development of massively parallel computers and distributed OS
- Research and development of image recognition technology/high-speed digital imaging
- Research and development of the next generation human interface
- Service delivery and handling of a cloud-based information collection system
- Developing a social entertainment platform
Here, image recognition and high-speed digital imaging hint at something similar to Kinect, while the cloud-based system suggest something akin to OnLive. But what is perhaps most interesting is the mention of “the next generation human interface”, which is sadly not elaborated upon.
On a page showing the management team, more is revealed. Each one of the 3 managers is ex-SCE, and have experience with PlayStation. Kutaragi’s bio is particularly interesting, and talks about how science fiction is becoming a reality, with there are flat panel displays available similar to those in Blade Runner, in vitro fertilization similar to genetic Sci-Fi texts and interfaces similar to Minority Report. It also mentions Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne and even H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. The text then goes on to talk about the emergence of giant data processing systems, “the advent of search engines” and “significantly larger and larger databases” which store the sum of human knowledge. 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s famous AI computer HAL is also mentioned as no longer being a “dream of the distant future”. Finally, it states: “we are actively involved in the creation of a new entertainment area.”
Whatever Kutaragi is working on is still shrouded in mystery, although the bio does seem to hint at AI (note: while the company is called Cyber Ai, the Ai is the Japanese word for “love” and a pun on the word “eye”).
Can you guess what crazy Ken is up to? Could his new capital have been given by Sony, with Kutaragi contracted to work on the PS4? Or do you think he is working on a Siri-like AI system? Let us know in the comments below.