Compared to other tech giants, Samsung is a relative late-bloomer in AI. But recent moves in acquisitions and R&D signal the company is jumping onto the intelligence wave, and doing so with a strong focus on virtual voice assistants.
Bixby the Brainy Voice Assistant
Samsung introduced its “S Voice” voice interface back in 2012 in response to the rising popularity of Apple’s Siri. The release however received lukewarm reviews, and S Voice stalled in the marketplace. By late 2016 Samsung upped its game by acquiring Viv Labs, an AI assistant startup founded by former Siri creators Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer.
In 2017 Samsung introduced the intelligent voice assistant Bixby for its smartphones, wireless earphones, TVs, fridges, and so on. The South Korean manufacturer is expected to release Bixby 2.0 later this year alongside a range of smart speakers and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. The upgraded assistant will feature improvements achieved with help from Viv Labs and Samsung’s other recent acquisitions including Reactor Labs, Expect Labs and Vicarious.
Last week Samsung Research America acquired Egyptian tech company Kngine for an undisclosed sum. The company provides mobile search solutions using deep learning and knowledge-based AI algorithms. Its engine crawls the world wide web, enterprise documents, books, FAQs and even customer service logs to gather information which it can use to help answer queries. It ranks possible responses, presenting users with the most plausible answer for a given question.
Samsung believes Kngine’s functionality will strengthen Bixby and set it apart from rivals Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. It’s still early to judge Bixby’s full performance, but the product has already garnered positive feedback online.
C-Lab Unveils New AI Gadgets
Samsung’s C-Lab (Creative Lab) is located in the sprawling Samsung Digital City in Suwon, South Korea. C-Lab is currently curating three new AI products that will be showcased at this year’s SXSW conference, which runs March 9-18 in Austin, Texas.
First up is Aurora, a visualized 3D character assistant that can recognize a user’s gestures and location using a smartphone camera and display visual information on the device. Aurora can also assume various emotional states when interacting with users, for example communicating with the chill style of a best buddy. Aurora could certainly be fun for those who want more character in their virtual assistant.
Toonsquare, meanwhile, adds to Samsung’s AI entertainment kit with its ability to convert phrases into cartoon images. The app’s text analyses AI takes what the user wants to communicate, then seasons the phrase with appropriate fun images. The app offers customization options for font, background and speech bubble.
The third release is an automated ad trading platform for video games called Gadget, which will help marketers put their ads on native game objects such as billboards. Users can choose what types of ad they’ll see. The seamless real-time ads will appeal to those who hate the interruption of pop-ups ads.
C-Lab was founded in 2012 as Samsung’s in-house idea incubator, and has since supported some 100 innovative projects. C-Lab and seven C-lab spinoff startups made a splash at this year’s CES with gadgets such as portable directional speakers and visual aid eyeglasses.
What’s Next for Samsung?
Last year, Samsung established an AI lab in Montreal, Canada in collaboration with AI Yoshua Bengio from University of Montreal. In partnership with China’s Tencent, Samsung is currently developing a line of AI speakers which are expected to be released this year. The company says it intends to build AI into all its home appliances by 2020.
Unlike rivals Google, Amazon, and other tech giants, Samsung has not avidly published AI papers. Instead, the company has so far progressed relatively cautiously in the space. But now it’s up and riding the AI wave just like the rest, with plenty of money to do startup acquisitions; a huge, robust consumer electronics market; and legions of Samsung fans eagerly waiting for the next product release.
Journalist: Meghan Han| Editor: Michael Sarazen