OpenAI bids for Japan business as it opens Tokyo office

Sam Altman, CEO of ChatGPT maker OpenAI, attends an open dialogue with students at Keio University in Tokyo

By Sam Nussey

TOKYO (Reuters) -Microsoft backed artificial intelligence startup OpenAI made a pitch for business in Japan on Monday as it opened its first Asia office in Tokyo.

"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 labour 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 optimised for the Japanese language and that Tadao Nagasaki, who was president of Amazon Web Services in Japan, is heading the Japan business.

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

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.

(Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Christopher Cushing)