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article imageSamsung buys Viv, an AI assistant from the people who built Siri

By James Walker     Oct 7, 2016 in Technology
Samsung has announced it is purchasing Viv Labs, a startup AI personal assistant. The team behind the technology worked on the original version of Siri, later bought by Apple in 2010. It signals Samsung is also planning to enter the assistant space.
The deal was first reported yesterday by Dag Kittlaus, co-founder of Viv Labs. Together with Adam Cheyer and Chris Brigham, Viv has built an assistant that integrates with third-party applications and aims to be hardware and platform-agnostic. It's more similar to Amazon's Alexa than the current state of Siri.
Today, Samsung confirmed the move, saying it "showcases Samsung's commitment to virtual personal assistants." According to the company, Viv Labs will aid it in its vision to deliver an "AI-based open ecosystem" that works across all of its devices and services. The company is making no secret of its intention to integrate Viv across its product range. In his blog post, Kittlaus mentioned smartphones, TVs and smart home products as candidates for Viv incorporation.
Viv is keen to avoid becoming tied to Samsung. It wants to remain true to its original concept of a platform-agnostic AI, which means it will need to be available on more than just Samsung products. Kittlaus said that Samsung will provide the company with a chance to test its vision at scale. The long-term goal is still to make Viv available "everywhere" though.
"In order for Viv to utilize the incredible scale Samsung offers, and in order to achieve our ultimate goal of redefining the way people interact with the digital landscape, it would be essential for Viv to be available across more than just Samsung devices," said Kittlaus. "Our vision requires that Viv be everywhere."
Viv will continue to operate as an independent company, pursuing its own developments and goals. Once the move is complete, it will begin to share its technology with Samsung. Over time, Samsung will gain more access to Viv's assistant, enabling it to integrate it directly into its products. There's currently no timeframe for when the first Viv-ready devices will appear.
The purchase indicates Samsung's commitment to AI at a time when the digital assistant market is becoming more crowded. Apple recently expanded Siri in iOS 10 and Amazon's Alexa has proven its worth in the smart home market. This week, Google debuted Google Assistant, a technology that lets you talk directly to the search engine.
Samsung's next-generation Android phones are likely to ship with Google Assistant but the company doesn't want to be reliant on Google's technology. Having access to Viv will give Samsung its own presence in the digital assistant market, a space that the key industry players are betting big on for the next decade.
Samsung hasn't been deterred from the purchase by the fact that Viv hasn’t actually launched yet. The company's demonstrations of its capabilities have already been enough to convince some analysts of its power. Viv is capable of writing its own code and building itself, a unique capability for current digital assistants. Viv is able to work out the user's intentions and create a program to handle them, an advantage that could give Samsung's products a leading edge over its rivals.
"Unlike other existing AI-based services, Viv has a sophisticated natural language understanding, machine learning capabilities and strategic partnerships that will enrich a broader service ecosystem," said Injong Rhee, CTO of the Mobile Communications business at Samsung Electronics. "Viv was built with both consumers and developers in mind. This dual focus is also what attracted us to Viv as an ideal candidate to integrate with Samsung home appliances, wearables and more, as the paradigm of how we interact with technology shifts to intelligent interfaces and voice control."
Viv thanked its followers for their support over the years. Kittlaus said the company is "enormously grateful" for the input of the people waiting to try Viv for themselves. He said the road ahead "is not trivial" but the acquisition by Samsung means Viv is "more optimistic than ever" that the team's original goals will be met. The value of the deal has not been disclosed.
More about Samsung, viv, digital assistant, Artificial intelligence, Ai
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