Samsung's NEON Artificial Humans are AI-Powered Avatars Meant to be 'Companions, Friends, and Collaborators'

Tuesday, 07 January 2020 - 12:56PM
Artificial Intelligence
Tuesday, 07 January 2020 - 12:56PM
Samsung's NEON Artificial Humans are AI-Powered Avatars Meant to be 'Companions, Friends, and Collaborators'
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Neon media (NEON)
I have been railing for years against what I call "the Flatweb," insistent that the promise of the internet has always been greater than the digitization of print, more ambitious than data storage, and more aspirational than mimicking television or radio. The closest thing to realizing its promise, I assert, has been found in mixed reality and in gaming, where one approaches the digital world as an explorer, not an observer, in immersive, participatory environments meant to be experienced, rather than simply consumed. 

When we covered Samsung Technology & Advanced Research Labs' (STAR Labs) highly-teased "artificial human" project NEON, we predicted "a mixed reality, interactive, animated humanoid image:" in short, a digital avatar. Sure enough, that's what STAR delivered at the Consumer Electronics Show today. So far, the media reports surrounding NEON have been less-than-impressed, with The Verge calling the company out for providing "fake" images of the avatars, evidenced by NEON's transparency in noting that "Scenarios shown at our CES Booth and in our promotional content are fictionalized and simulated for illustrative purposes only," thus leaving questions of what the actual avatars look like open to speculation. 

Other outlets, including CNET and CNBC, have characterized NEON as realistic "chatbots," despite the company's insistence that, unlike a chatbot, NEON is an artificial intelligence – a "computationally created virtual being" – capable of learning from its interactions with humans. This is not, in other words – and Samsung has taken great pains to emphasize this – a virtual assistant like Alexa, Siri, Bixby, or whatever you call Google's nameless helper, but rather something akin to a new form of augmented reality.

STAR Labs goes all-in on this in their press release's FAQ, a copy of which was provided to Outer Places and to members of the press at CES 2020.

"NEONs look and behave like a real human, with the ability to show emotions and intelligence. NEONs can learn new skills and form memories from experiences. Although they are computationally generated, NEONs can be friends, collaborators, and companions." This isn't a one-off statement. It is reiterated throughout the release. "Each NEON is a unique, individual Artificial Human, with his/her own unique personality, just like us," the company claims.

Opening quote
It is a new medium of expression, compassion, learning and love. NEONs are not some know-it-all bots. Nor are they androids, surrogates or copies of real humans. NEONs are like a new species of Artificial Humans. They are our companions, friends and collaborators. We truly believe NEONs will integrate with our world and serve as new links to a better future, a world where 'humans are humans' and 'machines are humane'.
Closing quote

While demos of NEONs are slated for later this week, most reporting has been appropriately skeptical. After all, the verbiage here exceeds anything suggesting, say, adding a face to Bixby: it promises a synthetic intelligence capable of human collaboration and companionship, both of which raise some pretty interesting questions about the nature of intelligence and consciousness. 

While we, too, remain skeptical, what's interesting is that this marks a major movement in technological thinking. This isn't a start-up trying to convince you to buy a new robot: this is a major tech manufacturer telling you that it's created – not developing, but created – a sentient artificial intelligence embodied in a digital, humanoid avatar. 

If true, this is huge.

We will be following this story as it progresses. 

GIF from video by Neon Media (NEON)
Artificial Intelligence
Samsung's NEON Artificial Humans are AI Avatars Meant to be 'Companions, Friends, and Collaborators'