Samsung, fresh from its recalled Galaxy Note7 smartphone disaster, is moving forward on its rumored plans for bringing artificial intelligence capabilities to some of its future products, including its upcoming Galaxy S8 smartphones in 2017.
"Samsung is excited to begin integrating initial AI capabilities into its future products and the Galaxy S8 is one of the possibilities," the company confirmed in an Oct. 7 email reply to an inquiry from eWEEK. "We look forward to sharing further details at a later date."
For Samsung, moving on to next year's Galaxy S8 smartphones likely can't come quickly enough after its failed Note7 phablet fiasco in late summer, when all 2.5 million Note7 devices worldwide were recalled and discontinued after battery fires and explosions in the devices were reported around the world.
A Samsung spokesman declined to comment further on the AI plans for the S8 smartphones and other products.
Samsung's interest in AI was deepened in October when the company acquired Viv Labs, an artificial intelligence company started by the creators of Apple's Siri digital assistant, to bolster AI capabilities in its smartphones and other consumer products. The deal will be used to broaden an AI-based open ecosystem across all of its devices and services, the company said in a statement.
Viv Labs' open AI platform lets third-party developers use and build conversational assistants and integrate a natural language-based interface into applications and services, which can extend mobile devices and services for users. Viv's platform allows developers to "teach" the system how to create new applications or to work with existing applications, according to Samsung. Samsung did not disclose the acquisition price for Viv Labs, which was created by two of the co-creators of Apple's Siri digital assistant—Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer. Chris Brigham was also a Viv Labs co-founder. Viv will remain a separate operation and will continue under its existing leadership, Samsung said.
Viv is named after the Latin root for the word, live, and essentially writes its own code as it operates to generate its answers to inquiries, according to an earlier eWEEK story.
Viv uses a technology called Dynamic Program Generation to grasp the context of a question, and then creates word clouds and relationships between the items to figure out the information needed to answer it. With each query, it has more to work with and grows smarter.
Werner Goertz, an analyst with Gartner, told eWEEK that Samsung's interest in AI and its work in potentially building AI features into the Galaxy S8 smartphone and other products could be part of its recovery strategy from the Note7 disaster.
"Samsung is making a much needed effort to recover from the detrimental impact on its brand, by making a step in the right direction: voice and personal assistant support is crucial to the user experience going forward," Goertz said. "While [Amazon's competing] Alexa [AI application] clearly dominates the connected home, mobility is a white space for personal assistant battlegrounds. Google Assistant has just been launched—[and] while it has potential, it is still empirically unproven."
Samsung's own personal assistant product, S-voice, "has not captured a competitive space, and Samsung is making a new, all-out effort with Viv," said Goertz. "Here's the challenge: the effectiveness of a virtual personal assistant (VPA) hinges on its existing knowledge database as much as on its AI capabilities," he said. "Here, Alexa's base of commercial transactions and Google’s knowledge base from search are a barrier to entry" for Samsung. "I expect Viv to be 'fresh' and with little contextual knowledge about the user, and the immediate impact will be limited without this knowledge base. Samsung must be careful when it launches not to exaggerate user expectations."
The Note7, which went on sale in late August and almost immediately was the subject of reports of battery fires and explosions, was completely dropped from sales and distribution on Oct. 11 by Samsung. The handsets had been recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) due to at least 100 reports of fires and explosions from consumers.
Samsung continues to seek the root cause of the Note7 fires so it can prevent similar problems in the future, according to an earlier eWEEK report. Lab tests of defective phones showed unexpected protrusions in some batteries from the original supplier, but were not conclusive, the report stated.
Samsung's third-quarter earnings were hit hard by the Note7 debacle as the company's operating profit fell 30 percent to $4.6 billion (5.2 trillion Korean won, KRW) from $6.4 billion (7.39 trillion KRW) a year ago. The company's mobile division operating profit was particularly devastated by the Note7 failure, declaring an $88 million (100 billion KRW) operating profit in the third quarter, down 96 percent from $2.09 billion (2.4 trillion KRW) in the third quarter of 2015. The company's mobile division revenue fell to 22.54 trillion KRW in the quarter from 26.61 trillion KRW in 2015. Samsung reported its third-quarter financials on Oct. 27. Overall, Samsung's revenue for the third quarter totaled 47.82 trillion KRW, down 7.47 percent from 51.68 trillion KRW in the same quarter in 2015.