Why Bixby (Samsung’s Voice Assistant) Is Going to Be The Best Feature On the Samsung Galaxy S9
Introducing Bixby and Samsung’s secret phone making advantage
Phone fatigue is an experience most people have had. It’s the sense of being unimpressed by the latest feature releases in their ‘new’phones. Most people, on both the Apple and Samsung side of the fence, have felt that way in the last few years. Phone fatigue leads to people holding on to their device longer. It’s one of the major themes driving the uptake of ‘SIM Only’ plans.
But consumers aren’t always aware of what’s going on ‘under the hood’ in their phones and recently, a lot’s been happening on the internal components and processors that make your phone work. Late 2017 saw the inclusion of a new type of ‘chip’ in phones, an AI (Artificial Intelligence) processor. You may have noticed them in the specification sheet if you bought one of the 2017 iPhones. It wasn’t just the iPhone X which is getting one, either.
Introducing Bixby – Running on an AI chip
Bixby, from Samsung, is a (relatively) new type of Voice Assistant. If you’re familiar with the name, you might recognize Bixby as the second name of the man who played The Incredible Hulk, one of the few mentions you’ll find of the moniker in popular culture.
Bixby is a new type of phone assistant, one which integrates better with your phone’s hardware. Not only will Bixby set an alarm or reminder, like other voice assistants, he’s built in to the camera on your phone and can recognize what he sees through the lens. Bixby has been around for a while but the overlap of the new Samsung Voice assistant and this even newer sort of micro-processor, could make Bixby the best phone friend you’ve ever had.
How do AI algorithms currently work on a phone?
AI algorithms, the code which does the fuzzy logic matching that many of your requests rely on, are already available on your phone, of course.They currently work by sending any heavy lifting, in the form of heavy processing and calculation loads, to ‘the cloud’ where they are completed by more capable devices. This can, of course, impact user cellular data plans and incur unnecessary network traffic (sometimes with a cost). That’s something users, obviously, hate.
Samsung’s New Artificial Intelligence Chip
Often called a ‘neural engine’, or an NPU (Neural Processing Unit), Samsung are likely to include inside the Galaxy S9, a processor specifically designed to undertake tasks which would benefit from artificial intelligence smarts. There will be no more going to the cloud for an answer. You’ll use less cellular data, less battery and get an answer more quickly.
Neural networks are names given to the clever maths which establishes the sort of loose relationships between things that, until this point, humans have been able to and computers have not been able to establish.
It’s not quite terminator 2 yet but it’ll help you search your pictures for ‘smiles’ or ‘Dave’s face’. It’s the science behind Siri’s ability to ‘(mostly) correctly interpret what you said to her despite the noisy background and your strong Scottish accent.
Why Samsung have a distinct advantage in AI chipsets
It may surprise you to hear that Samsung is now the world’s largest microprocessor chip manufacturer, stealing the mantle from Intel in late 2017. It’s hard to imagine that Samsung are not busy, figuring out ways to leverage this scale advantage, towards the improvement of their phone products. That’s where this new AI chip comes in.
The bulk of the cost of producing this new AI processing hardware is borne up front by the manufacturers. Many different providers have been working on AI chips in paralle. Google, Apple and others, including the growing Chinese smartphone threat, Huawei,(their Kirin 970 phone also had an AI focused chip) have each done the hard yards. When it’s done like this,each of the manufacturers ends up spending millions of dollars on R&D, over a long period, often duplicating each others work.
The ultimate goal of the AI R&D work they’ve done is an attempt to understand where current standard processors, of the sort that have been used in phones since day dot, are working inefficiently.
And it’s not just phone manufacturers who are interested in figuring out the problem. Major chip manufacturers have been hard at it too. Qualcomm have included a roughly analogous chip and Nvidia, a company which was, it appears, frankly surprised that their 3D video processing graphics chips turned out to be unusually efficient at processing so algorithms.
What does all this mean to Bixby?
From a competitive standpoint, Samsung will parlay their global advantage over Apple in being the biggest chip manufacturer, in to a way to make their voice assistant better than Siri. (Siri’s reputation is far from perfect amongst it’s users, anyway.)
Voice interfaces are now at the level where they are almost as good as humans in hearing and accurately interpreting the words spoken, even in noisy environments. Samsung’s new AI chips could be the factor which pushes them over the top and makes talking to your phone the most convenient way of interacting with them.
Since Samsung make the chips for Apple, too, the advantage, if it is developed, could be long lasting. Bixby may come to know you better than your other half and be your favorite person to talk to. And it could be the reason people chose a Galaxy over an iPhone.
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