Samsung’s announcement of artificial humans comes after a decade of Apple Siri’s existence. In 2010, when Apple announced AI-powered Siri, it was one of the most advanced bots of the time. It was also only 50 years since MIT professor Weizenbaum had created the first chatbot called ELIZA. While, in 2001, Richard Wallace created the first programme, this was also the time that SmartChild was released, a chatbot available on AOL IM and MSN Messenger.
Artificial intelligence has progressed leaps and bounds over the last decade. Samsung’s latest is the culmination of old AI technology. The first bot to clear the Turing test—where a machine could trick a human into thinking that it is one—was in 2014, since then each year many bots have cleared Loebner and Turing tests. Many have come of age and helped countless people come out of depression.
Mitsuku is one example. The bot is used by millions to fight depression and to discuss things. When it started in 2013, Mitsuku could not hold a conversation for more than a few minutes. Now, it can do more than five minutes, and even longer in some cases.
Samsung’s technology is one step further. While Apple and Google have focused on creating personal assistants, Samsung, after Bixby’s failure, has created an artificial human. Residing on a large screen and with many human-like avatars, Neon is more than a personal assistant. It is a friend, a confidante. A person can walk up to the virtual human and start talking.
But the biases are inherent, and if Samsung wants its bots to become successful—in time, they will—it will need to shed these biases. More importantly, it requires training, and this is a pain point for Samsung. While virtual humans have many avatars and can talk in many languages, there are limitations to Samsung’s reach. Apple has more users of its services, and Google has an extensive network of devices. If any of these services come to compete with Samsung, it will not have the resources.
That may all be good for the world, but it would mean an early death for Samsung’s virtual humans. So, what Samsung needs is a project outreach. While virtual humans can stay on large screens, it needs chatbots for its mobile. It may also need to prep up its personal assistant Bixby. Chatbots will help Samsung achieve the scale that it wishes to reach. And, an app will make them platform agnostic. This shall also mean millions of data points.
A personal assistant—Samsung may be contemptuous of Apple, Google and Amazon for building these—will help it learn conversation styles. People, whether Samsung likes it or not, will still converse with a personal assistant more than they would with a chatbot. After all, there is also distrust about Samsung and big tech learning secrets.
2020 is a promising year for technology. This will also be the year when we get to know if the bot experiment—Japan has deployed hundreds of these for Olympics—will work or not. It is also the year virtual humans will be tested. While there is still much more innovation to come from other players in the coming years, Samsung’s failure or success will show how far away are we from a Her like future before we can rely on technology not just for answers, but questions.
Hopefully, others will not make the same mistakes as Samsung has about appearances. Digital humans are, indeed, essential to talk to, but Samsung would have done better not to play to biases. All the virtual humans are good-looking and aesthetically pleasing like actors and actresses. There are no fat virtual bots and nearly no realism. The Indian version, for instance, looks like someone from a Bollywood drama, while the Korean version is typical K-Pop.
Overtime Samsung and others need to realise people will be more comfortable talking to a regular person than a movie star look-alike.
The magic mirror can work wonders, provided Samsung does not stay confined to the beauty of its product.