Samsung to acquire next-gen AI platform Viv

Samsung's deal is a coup for the company as the developers behind Viv Labs also founded digital assistant Siri, which was sold to Apple and became the voice-based digital assistant on iPhones and other gadgets.
Samsung's deal is a coup for the company as the developers behind Viv Labs also founded digital assistant Siri, which was sold to Apple and became the voice-based digital assistant on iPhones and other gadgets.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SEOUL • Samsung Electronics is acquiring Viv Labs, a United States- based artificial intelligence (AI) software firm, seeking to bolster its expertise as smartphones become virtual assistants for complex tasks.

The deal is a coup for Samsung - the developers behind Viv also founded Siri, which was sold to Apple and became the voice-based digital assistant on iPhones and other gadgets.

Viv has been working on an AI platform that understands plain language so that users can interact with computers and software programs. A Viv-based digital assistant will first appear on Samsung's smartphones due out later next year, according to Samsung executive vice- president Rhee In Jong .

As the top providers of high-end smartphones, Samsung and Apple are locked in a battle to add more features and technology to their products to appeal to customers.

Viv, based in San Jose, California, would have been an attractive target for any other company looking for AI expertise, such as Microsoft or Google's parent Alphabet.

"We envision that our users will be able to freely use their smartphones even without touching their interfaces," said Mr Rhee, who runs the mobile division's software research-and-development business. "A lot of your phone's fun functionalities will be covered by voice and conversation."

Viv was founded by Mr Dag Kittlaus and Mr Adam Cheyer in 2012. As computer hardware and software improves, the ability of devices to communicate verbally is becoming a key feature of phones and other gadgets that will harness AI.

Viv was designed as a software platform that other programmers could use to build conversational features into their products.

"Imagine a world where you're driving in your car and you simply ask your phone to order some food that will arrive 10 minutes after you've got home from work," said Mr Kittlaus, who is Viv's chief executive. "These devices will understand who you are and get to know you."

In a separate development, Samsung Electronics responded warily yesterday to a proposal by US hedge fund Elliott Management to split the South Korean tech giant into two companies. Markets, however, cheered the plan, sending its shares to a record high.

"We will carefully review the shareholders' proposals," the technology conglomerate said in a terse statement, with its spokesmen declining further comment.

Entities controlled by Elliott, the hedge fund run by the billionaire Paul Singer, own about 0.62 per cent of Samsung.

In a proposal unveiled on Wednesday, Elliott laid out a strategy for streamlining Samsung, splitting the company in two, dual-listing the resulting operating company on a US exchange and paying shareholders a special dividend of 30 trillion won (S$36.9 billion).

Elliott argued that Samsung, currently a maze of listed and unlisted companies with a notoriously opaque ownership and management structure, had suffered from a long-term undervaluation in the equity market.

The proposal saw Samsung's share price close the day up 4.45 per cent at an all-time high of close to 1.7 million won.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'Samsung to acquire next-gen AI platform Viv'. Print Edition | Subscribe