Samsung’s Yoon C. Lee on Bixby, Galaxy Home, and all things AI | Industry

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For a sprawling electronics company like Samsung, which counts smartphones, appliances, televisions, and computers among its thousands of product categories, artificial intelligence is a core part of the day-to-day. Today at VentureBeat's Transform 2018 conference, Yoon C. Lee, senior vice president of content and services and head of the product innovation team at Samsung Electronics America, spoke at length about a few of the ways Samsung uses AI — and about its broader AI strategy.

“In our definition, intelligence is moving from a content-centric world to a context-centric world,” Lee said. “We would like to make devices useful to you by making them contextual. What we want to do is to make our data useful so that they become successful in their domain and we become successful in our domain … That's the only approach to make your connected lifestyle more meaningful.”

To that end, 2.0 — the latest generation of Samsung's digital voice assistant, and its answer to Apple's Siri, the Google Assistant, and Microsoft's Cortana — is conversational. When you ask it about upcoming concerts over Labor Day weekend, for example, it'll remember that date range when looking for tickets in the future. Moreover, it knows your preferences — when you ask Bixby to book a restaurant, it'll infer the size of your party and the time based on past reservations.

Contextualization is just one piece of the AI puzzle, though; the other is the experience. And Samsung's upcoming Home was built from the ground up with that principle in mind, Lee said.

The Galaxy Home — a smart home speaker powered by Bixby — was announced at an event in early August alongside the Galaxy Note9 and Galaxy Watch.

It'll play music through high-end, omnidirectional subwoofers and tweeters tuned by AKG, and respond to voice commands with the help of a multi-antenna array for far-field voice recognition and high-end. But unlike competition like Google Home, Amazon's Echo speakers, and Apple's HomePod, it'll be much more personal, versatile, and easy to use, Lee said — in large part thanks to AI.

“What's going to launch in the market is experience first, not covering everything,” he explained. “We're focusing on certain experiences. It's not that consumers don't want a lot of options — they don't want complexity. The great thing about voice is that it's parallel, not serial. Bixby is making your connected lifestyle more useful to you, because it's tied to the devices that know most about you.”

Lee stressed that AI isn't a singular pursuit — it can't be tackled by one company alone. Openness in AI is the only way to drive innovation, he said.

“If you completely block your partners' access to the data, it's challenging to advance the field. Data is almost useless unless you know how to interpret it,” Lee said.

On that front, Samsung recently announced that it would invest $22 billion in AI and other emerging technologies, and hired prominent Bell Labs data scientists with plans to hire 1,000 AI researchers by 2020. This past year, it opened new AI labs in Canada, Russia, and the United Kingdon.

Its collaborations have already begun to bear fruit. Bixby works with apps like CNN, Flipboard, Facebook, Twitter, and Uber. And Bixby Vision, a computer vision feature on the Galaxy S8, S9, and Note9, leverages integrations with Vivino, Amazon, Nordstrom, Sephora, Cover Girl, FourSquare, Pinterest, Adobe, and others to scan barcodes and show relevant product listings, recommend wine, scan documents, display the calorie counts of food, and let you virtually “try on” makeup products.

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