Samsung’s Neon ‘artificial humans’ look like super-realistic video chatbots

Samsung’s STAR Labs research group announced a new “artificial human” called Neon early Tuesday morning at CES 2020.

Neon isn’t a robot or a voice assistant like Siri or Alexa. Instead, it’s a simulated human assistant that appears on a screen and learns about people to help it give seemingly intelligent and life-like responses — think of it like an animated chatbot. Samsung claims the Neons will be able to provide a response to questions in milliseconds.

A spokesperson for STAR (Samsung Technology & Advanced Research) Labs told CNBC that the avatars will “help enhance interactions people have with certain jobs, such as friendly customer service; a worker that will be able to remember your name if you do yoga a certain amount of times during the week.”

CNBC Tech: Samsung NEON 2
NEON artificial humans.


As the images show, Neons will be able to have different looks and attitudes.

“Over time, Neons will work as TV anchors, spokespeople or movie actors; or they can simply be companions and friends,” the company said.

Neons will be available as services for companies and people to license or subscribe to, but Star Labs said it’s not trying to replace humans, even if it seems like it. “We are not looking to replace human jobs, but rather enhance the customer service interactions, have customers feel as if they have a friend with Neons,” a spokesperson told CNBC.

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STAR’s marketing rhetoric around the Neons is pretty extreme. The company says the Neons have their own emotions and memories, for instance, which would be an astounding and unprecedented feat of computer science. It’s more likely that the creators can simply program them to simulate emotions and store data.

Without having seen one, it’s unclear how “smart” Neons actually are, or how well they are able to understand people or empathize with a person in distress. Voice assistants Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are also capable of learning a human’s unique voice and responding, but they often make many mistakes.

Other companies have tried to replace or complement human workers in similar ways. SoftBank Robotics launched its smart robot Pepper in 2015. It was available for in-home purchase as well as in banks, healthcare facilities and restaurants, and was capable of serving as a receptionist.

“We plan to make Neon available to business partners as well to consumers all around the world,” the company said in a FAQ sheet. “It is too early for us to comment on the business model or pricing for Neon, but we plan to beta launch Neon in the real world with selected partners later this year.”

Without further details, it’s tempting to dismiss this as a stunt product that will never see the light of day outside CES. We’ll see if Samsung proves us wrong and actually releases the thing later this year.