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OpenAI expands to Japan, opens 1st Asian office in Tokyo

Microsoft-backed artificial intelligence startup OpenAI, maker of popular chatbot ChatGPT took root in Japan as it opened its first Asia office in Tokyo on Monday.

“This is just the first step in what I hope will be a long-term partnership with the people of Japan, government leaders, businesses and research institutions,” OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said in a video message.

The startup, which has caused excitement among consumers since the launch of its ChatGPT generative AI chatbot in late 2022, is looking to grow new sources of revenue globally.

Altman and Chief Operating Officer Brad Lightcap have hosted hundreds of Fortune 500 company executives in the United States and Britain this month to pitch for business, Reuters has reported.

Last year Altman said he was considering a Japan location after meeting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The startup has also opened offices in London and Dublin.

Japan hopes to take advantage of AI as it looks to compete with an increasingly assertive China, accelerate the shift to digital services and alleviate deepening labor shortages.

“We have a backlog of demand,” Lightcap told reporters in Tokyo, adding that “we expect a meaningful contribution from Japan over time,” without providing details.

OpenAI said it has a custom model optimized for the Japanese language and that Tadao Nagasaki, who was president of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Japan, is heading the Japan business.

While the country is seen as a laggard in technology, local companies including telcos SoftBank and NTT are investing in large language models (LLMs).

OpenAI’s customers in Japan include automaker Toyota Motor, manufacturer Daikin Industries and local government.

Microsoft said last week it would invest $2.9 billion over two years in cloud and AI infrastructure in Japan, part of a wave of investment globally by U.S. tech giants.

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