CES 2020: Samsung’s “artificial human” NEON disappointingly is just a digital humanoid avatar

"You look lonely. I can fix that."

Samsung Project NEON - Artificial Human
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The tech world was recently taken by surprise and intrigue with the rumors of an “artificial human” NEON from Samsung. A few leaked videos on the internet had most people (including me) fooled about just how futuristic the tech would be. Then again, those photo-realistic artificial beings might’ve fooled anyone. But let me rip that band-aid right off before the cup of expectations overflows.

All the promotional videos leaked or used officially by STAR (Samsung Technology and Advanced Research) Labs were actually just simulations, filmed using real person and the final product is nowhere near what we were led to believe. A few live interactions with NEON at the CES 2020 objectively prove that the project has got a long way to go before it meets its goal; the goal of being a virtual companion. Ah man, I had so many Westworld puns for this, but alas!

Samsung NEON – A human, far too artificial

Let’s try to understand what NEON actually is. First and foremost, it’s not an AI assistant, no sir. There’s no Google Assistant, Alexa, Bixby, Siri or any of those other thingamajigs. According to STAR Labs (which coincidentally happens to be the name of a science and research lab is DC universe as well), NEON is merely a human companion. It can make and build a conversation with you alongside “realistic” emotions, in multiple languages too; like English, Spanish, Hindi, Japanese, etc. Unlike a digital assistant, it will not tell you if Nepal has the most unique flag in the world or which country is the home to the tallest mountain on Earth.

While the company’s obvious goal is to make the tech as realistic as possible, a few live demos show just where it stands as of now. A conversation‘s got to be fluent and quasi-instant but a NEON will not deliver you that, not yet. The time it takes is too slow and the facial expressions and the body language will book you a trip to the uncanny valley for sure. Go watch CNET’s video to actualize my disappointment. The tech would have absolutely wrinkled everyone’s brain had it been remotely close to what we were alluded to. Do you remember Sophia – the AI robot? Yeah, the NEON could be called a virtual Sophia at this point.

How they work

The Samsung “artificial human” NEON is powered by the Core R3 platform (which stands for Reality, Realtime, and Responsive). On the other hand, its intelligence, learning, emotions, and memory are powered by SPECTRA, the detail of which remains a mystery.

“In the near future, one will be able to license or subscribe to a NEON as a service representative, a financial advisor, a healthcare provider, or a concierge. Over time, NEONs will work as TV anchors, spokespeople, or movie actors; or they can simply be companions and friends.”

Now that… is just a far-fetched goal but not unaccomplishable in any way. Your personal teacher, gym instructor, health advisor, who you can get in touch with at any time? Where do I sign up? However, STAR Labs was insistent on how NEON is not meant to be an alternative to a real person, no. Sure it can form memories, acquire skills, develop a personality, but replace a human it shall not.

Samsung NEON Artificial Human Core R3 Platform

And let me also point out how NEON is just… extra sci-fi; know what I mean? From the tech itself to the company’s statements regarding it, the NEON Artificial Human from Samsung eerily walks that line. Allow me to quote Pranav Mistry, CEO of the Project NEON and the head of STAR Labs:

“There are millions of species on our planet, and we hope to add one more.”

Doesn’t that feel, weirdly and uncomfortably progressive? For me, it sounded like something Niander Wallace from Blade Runner 2049 would say.