CES 2020: Neon, Samsung's 'artificial human', causes more skepticism than enthusiasm
If Samsung has not really raised its bet to create an artificial human, the Korean company will have at least succeeded in its coup de com’. Its sophisticated avatars, dubbed ‘Neons’, and unveiled at CES 2020 in Las Vegas, have been much talked about. A lab of the group distilled some information during the opening of the show on these “virtual beings created on computer” who have, according to their designers, “the ability to show emotions and intelligence”. First described by press releases and messages on social networks, these avatars, described as a “new form of life”, are to be presented to the public on Tuesday in Las Vegas— on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday in France.
The speculation and leaks about this ambitious project by Star Labs, the Californian subsidiary of the South Korean giant, have aroused fascination in advance for this idea of a real artificial intelligence (AI), with its own personality, straight out of science fiction. But in anticipation of a real public demonstration, some expressed skepticism, such as the tech news site The Verge. The “Neons” are “just like-human digital avatars, who deserve as much the nickname of artificial humans as Siri,” the famous Apple voice assistant, the specialized site estimated.
“It’s not a surprise, there are several laboratories in the world” that are working to produce avatars animated by artificial intelligence, Laurent Chrétien, the general manager of Laval Virtual, the most important French virtual reality trade show, told AFP.
When Neon is truly unveiled to the public, Laurent Chrétien will seek to evaluate not the graphic quality of avatars, but their ability to react to changes in their environment. “The real issue is about the combination of artificial intelligence and virtual reality: will we succeed in creating new universes, with virtual beings who have their own faculties?”, he wonders.
A com’ coup from Star Labs without concrete details
Star Labs in any case seems convinced that it has hit hard: “Neon is a new form of life,” does not hesitate to affirm Pranav Mistry, the boss of the lab. Core R3, the technology platform that will animate the avatars, “can now autonomously create new expressions, movements and dialogues (even in Hindi), completely different from the data originally recorded,” he tweeted on Saturday.
Interactions with avatars will probably take place via screens, augmented reality (projected images) or virtual reality (immersive headsets), but the cryptic release from Star Labs gives few concrete details about these “artificial humans”.
Companies will be able to rent a Neon to serve as a “financial advisor, healthcare professional or concierge,” Star Labs assures. Later, they “will work as show presenters, spokespeople or movie actors. Or they can simply be companions and friends”.
“If what they say is true (…) there are major implications for many sectors,” commented independent analyst Jack Gold to AFP, who is considering the possibility of creating “fake” human beings “seeking to deceive a person for malicious or illegal purposes”.
Neons present the same danger as deepfakes
The announcement could raise concerns, as social networks struggle with the proliferation of misinformation and “deepfakes,” those hyperrealistic video montages designed to amuse or deceive the public.
Deepfakes manipulate the truth or make up situations from scratch, to make it seem, for example, that a political candidate has made insulting remarks, or that a celebrity has behaved inappropriately. The effects on opinion can be felt long after the denials.
“Core R3 can create a reality that normal perception will not be able to distinguish (from real reality),” Star Labs assures.
Digital avatars ask two types of questions, according to analyst Avi Greengart: “Are they going to make us uncomfortable?” and “How will they be used?”.
Pranav Mistry, former chief innovation officer of Samsung Mobile and group vice president, launched Star Labs in 2019. He is known for designing Sixth Sense (“Sixth Sense”), a gesture-based connected accessory technology, when he was at the prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
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