Are Samsung’s ‘Neons’ the New Pseudo-Humans?

The concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a weighted one. Spearheaded by companies like Google and Amazon, the trend of making smart devices that serve the ultimate goal of making one forget that they are not interacting with a real human is rather fascinating. Samsung is undoubtedly one of the biggest tech giants which has made a big push in making our phones and other devices smarter. Samsung has invested a lot of capital on AI and has opened AI research and development centres all around the globe. This effort is geared towards working on solving problems and making technology smarter. In fact, Neon, launched in January 2020, could represent Samsung’s next big break when it comes to AI. 

Neon isn’t a robot or a voice assistant – it is a futuristic video chatbot which can read and learn people’s preferences and even give real-time feedback that is expected to better people’s daily lives. Pranav Mistry, the Samsung research executive behind Neon and CEO of Samsung’s Bay Area-based Technology and Advanced Research lab or also the STAR lab, tweeted that the ultimate motive behind Neon was “the mission to imagine and create a better future for all”. 

With every breakthrough in AI tech, we get one step closer to the possibility of a virtual or digital human becoming a part of our daily lives in the form of say, a virtual news anchor or virtual receptionist or even an AI-generated film star. At Neon’s launch, Mistry introduced his first three Neons as Karen, an airline worker, Cathy a yoga instructor and Maya a student. Behind this idea of advanced AI, is a structured technical effort that goes into its development. 

The technology behind the concept is split into two: Core R3 and Spectra. Core R3 basically stands for Reality, Real time and Responsiveness, where each Represents a major principle of what defines a NeonReality shows that a Neon is its own thing and not a copy or motion captured footage from an actor or another human being.  Realtime signifies that a Neon is not just a programmed line of code which is scripted to perform particular tasks without variation like one might get from a robot. Finally, Responsiveness is that Neon, like humans, has the ability to react to stimuli and other external matters. Coming to the Spectra is essentially Neon’s learning platform, which is designed to teach Neons new skills, retain memories and more. In a nutshell, the Core R3 is responsible for the looks, mannerisms, voice and animations of Neon’s general realistic looking appearance, while the Spectra is responsible for a Neon’s personality and intelligence. Karen, Kathy and Maya are made up of Core R3 and Spectra, just as humans are made up of physical and non-physical components. 

Neons, although relatively new, have already seen vast improvements. Neons were originally modelled on humans, and the company used computers to record different people’s facial expression and bodies. Now, they can autonomously create new expressions, or new movements, or new dialogues (even in Chinese, Korean and Hindi) – which is different from the captured or fitted data. 

Neons are unique as they are envisioned as a highly life like companions that have their own personality who can converse and behave like humans, who can also remember and learn. This means that like a real human friend, the memories of interactions are tied to one specific Neon and if we interact with a new Neon, it won’t be able to pick up where we have left off with the previous one. The company does not intend to turn them into the physical robots or voice assistants, but they will exist as holograms, so mostly we can expect to interact with these Neons using Smartphone, tablets, smart TVs or maybe even using apps like Skype and other video based apps. 

In a way, Neons are successful in bringing science friction to reality. Even though this is in its early stage right now, the Company plans to launch the Beta version of Neons towards the end of this year. Its main aim is to provide assistance to business partners and provide healthy business in replacing countless service workers. Its motive is to enhance interactions people have with certain jobs like friendly customer service or friendly relations. 

Ever since its release this year, there has been a lot of hype and anticipation about how exactly this new species will, in Mistry’s words, “make a positive impact”. To some, it can be chilling to think of an AI that has the power to make its own decisions. This sect has raised a lot of questions about the acceptance that such a development will be able to garner. 

Additionally, there is also fear of people losing jobs to Neons who might turn out to be more efficient than people. And in a time of economic slowdown, this apprehension only adds fuel to the fire. Paranoia over the thought of absolute human replacement is also palpable. 

The question then arises – how far are we going away from reality? Is the new generation of children going to be surrounded by AI and robots instead of friends or siblings? Is a perfect AI going to the erase the need of the imperfect human? 

Picture Credits: Neon

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