AI and machine learning have become the buzzwords of today’s tech world and news but, save for a few exceptions, people envision them as disembodied voices like Siri or even impersonal bits and bytes that silent work miracle behind computer screens. At CES 2020 earlier this year, Samsung and its subsidiary Star Labs showed off AI that was both relatable but also eerily too human. As if it wasn’t enough to have them standing at arms’ length on wall-mounted displays, it seems that Samsung is toying with the idea of bringing NEON to phones soon.
The idea behind NEON is just as bewildering as it sounds. These artificial humans aren’t Siri, Cortana, or Alexa made digital flesh. They are, instead, mean to be virtual equivalents of persons, using AI to express emotions and reactions in a human-like way. Rather than being virtual assistants, they are more like virtual friends.
The COVID-19 pandemic that exploded just a few weeks later may have thrown a wrench in Samsung’s plans to demonstrate the kind of product it wants NEON to be. While the idea of a virtual companion might be attractive to some, having those confined to a life-sized screen on a single wall in your house breaks the illusion it tries to offer. For better or worse, it seems that Samsung wants you to take your NEON with you in the future.
Star Labs president and CEO Pranav Mistry, whose list of achievements include the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Samsung Project Beyond 3D capture system, revealed on Twitter that NEON was already running on his phone. Given his employer, we can only presume it’s some high-end Samsung Galaxy phone. He also shares that the public will be able to see this combination next month.
That still doesn’t exactly clarify what NEON is for, aside from being a showcase of Samsung’s AI chops. Granted, it might have more practical value on a mobile device than on a wall but it will probably be only a matter of time before uncanny valley makes humans uncomfortable with their digital counterparts.