Samsung acquires Viv Labs to grow an indigenous AI
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Photo credit: Viv Labs

Photo credit: Viv Labs

Now Samsung can compete with the likes of Siri, Cortana, and even Echo – particularly since Viv’s founder co-created Siri

Samsung, through its Global Innovation Center, has acquired Viv Labs, a prominent artificial intelligence developer, putting an end to speculation that Facebook or Google would be making a bid on it this year. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

With Viv, Samsung will be better placed to develop its own in-house machine intelligence capabilities. Viv Labs had already partnered with at least 50 third party companies including GrubHub and Uber, and it is expected that the entire design team will transition over to Samsung.

At Disrupt NY 2016, Viv’s Dag Kittlaus, a co-creator of Apple’s Siri, demonstrated Viv’s “dynamic program generation,” which allows it to break down commands for complex requests by writing code in real-time to run searches online and on your phone. For instance, as Wired’s Steven Levy told NPR when Viv debuted in 2014, the device would diagram a request to the effect of, “I want to buy a cheap bottle of wine on the way to my brother’s house that goes well with lasagna” by mapping out the elements of the sentence and connecting them to databases.

Viv breaks this sentence down into:

  • Defining each item (wine, wine prices, lasagna, brother’s name, brother’s home address)
  • Looking up which wines pair well with lasagna as a pasta dish
  • Checking price ranges for these wines to find the cheapest ones
  • Locating wine stores relative to the brother’s house
  • Mapping out routes between the user’s home, wine stores, and the brother’s house

A review from the Observer noted that Viv did better with such complex requests than the virtual assistants of Viv’s competitors Apple and Google.

Machine intelligences are being built by these companies to make such finer distinctions. Google image recognition systems for its AIs can now recognize more descriptive elements in media: what would have only been described plainly as a “train” before can now be identified as a moving train wearing a particular livery.

It seems like a very small step to get a machine to understand basic compound sentences and prepositional phrases, but AI must develop incrementally in this way. The ability to detect multiple meanings and pair them together is necessary for further advances still years away.

Kittlaus has previously told press that he does not believe Viv will birth a pitiless, god-like sentience that enslaves humanity to its will one day. This is good news for Samsung, which has suffered a spate of bad press lately due to Galaxy Note 7 safety recalls and a consumer products lawsuit over its exploding washing machines.

Viv, at least, will not prove to be such a problem child when it is integrated with those products.

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