Samsung Finally Gets More Intelligent

Jon Markman | Tuesday, October 18, 2016 at 7:30 am

Samsung phones may be exploding now, but in the future they will have cutting-edge artificial intelligence and an ecosystem built around natural conversation that will transcend apps.

The South Korean multinational conglomerate has announced it will acquire Viv Labs, a San Jose startup that has become a big player in the exploding field of artificially intelligent digital assistants.

If the name Viv Labs is vaguely familiar, that might be because the company made quite a splash earlier this year when its founder, Dag Kittlaus, showed off a conversational interface so smart that it could fetch an Uber for six people, or order just the right flowers for his mother. Logically, he calls the interface Viv.

For Kittlaus, this type of smart, personal digital assistant is the logical evolution of touch interfaces and mobile applications. The assistant lives in the cloud and it is as ubiquitous as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. It also taps into a massive new marketplace likely to produce just a few really big winners. (I’ll be impressed when it is smart enough to help me choose the right short iron on the golf course when the pin is 135 feet away and slightly downhill, without me asking first.)

You can understand the sense of urgency for Samsung. It is certainly one of the world’s leading technology companies, yet it has fallen well behind competitors in artificial intelligence. Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Microsoft (MSFT), Facebook (FB) and Alphabet (GOOG) are all spending billions on developing digital assistants and trying to foster their ecosystems. The lure of the Internet of Things and its treasure trove of data has only accelerated the push.

In addition to creating Apple’s Siri, Viv Labs founders developed revolutionary computer science that allows digital Viv to write its own code on the fly. This is valuable because it imposes a level of security against those looking to harm the system while allowing developers to build modules and bring services at a much faster clip.

Dr. Injong Rhee, Samsung’s executive vice president of software and services, told Reuters “Viv brings in a very unique technology to allow us to have an open system where any third-party service and content providers (can) add their services to our devices’ interfaces.”