Aside from teasers and leaks, little was known of the mysterious Samsung-backed AI-related project called Neon, developed by Samsung Technology and Advanced Research Labs (aka STAR Labs). On 7 January at CES 2020, the company has officially unveiled the project which is basically a virtual companion.
Samsung describes its technology as “a computationally created virtual being that looks and behaves like a real human, with the ability to show emotions and intelligence.” As mentioned before, a “Neon” – the moniker given to these virtual avatars – functions as a user’s companion, rather than an AI assistant like Siri or Google Assistant.
According to a FAQ shared with Cnet and other tech reporters present at the event, Neon avatars aren’t all-knowing smart assistants that could provide you with weather forecasts or trivial knowledge like Abraham Lincoln’s age when he was died. Instead, Neons can engage in realistic communication that allows it use emotional responses such as laughter, sympathy and so on.
According to STAR Labs, Neons are completely artificial, constructed from algorithms built on the CORE R3 technology platform. The “R3” stands for Reality, Real-time and Responsive, which is the backbone for the Neons’ natural and believable personalities. Based on a leaked teaser video, each Neon has its own unique personality and occupation such as a news anchor, doctor, fitness instructor, air stewardess and much more.
However, according to a statement to The Verge, Samsung explained that the “avatars” showcased in the promotional content are fictionalised and simulated for illustrative purposes only. Meaning that what we have seen in the videos and images of these supposed Neons are merely real-life actors, but are enough to give us an idea of what to expect from this project and understand what the company plans to achieve.
Samsung aims to have Neons to provide “value-added services” where businesses or individuals are able to “license or subscribe to a Neon as a service representative, a financial advisor, a healthcare provider, or a concierge.” So rather than a virtual assistant that would make Marvel’s Tony Stark run for his money, Neons are a more realistic and interactive versions of Maxis’ MIRA assistant or Microsoft’s Clippy (RIP).
It’s most likely we’ll encounter these virtual companions in retail stores, clinics, airports or gyms in the near future. Perhaps, like the current boom of Japanese Virtual Youtubers, a Neon could actually become a celebrity one day… or get featured in an episode of Black Mirror.