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July 12, 2017

Samsung’s latest acquisition could help Bixby sound more human

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Technology that makes virtual assistants more human-sounding, and easier to understand, will make them more useful to us in the future.

Samsung has acquired Innoetics, a company specializing in speech technology, which it may use to improve its Bixby virtual assistant, or use in its rumored smart home speaker system. Innoetics works primarily in text-to-speech, using incredibly natural sounding digital voices, but also develops voices for artificial intelligence, and even digital characters for use in talking books. Its technology has seen the creation of 29 different “synthetic voices,” which can speak 15 different languages.

It’s obvious how Samsung could benefit from Innoetics technology and expertise, but the company hasn’t talked about what its intentions are yet. Samsung has confirmed the acquisition, and said only that Innoetics technologies, “present an opportunity to strengthen Samsung’s capabilities,” in a statement to Techcrunch.

Innoetics, which is based in Greece, hasn’t worked on apps or consumer projects before, and has instead collaborated with local carriers and companies such as Duolingo. Following the acquisition it will end its current services and “focus on further developing the technology it has planned and developed so far,” according to co-founder Emilios Halamandaris, speaking to local newspaper Ekathimerini. The same publication quotes anonymous sources saying the voice technology will be used by Samsung to challenge Apple and Google, further suggesting it will become part of the Bixby virtual assistant.

We can see a hint of Innoetics ambitions in this area from a blog post the company published at the end of 2016, saying it was working on the most advanced synthetic voices it had ever designed, which were ideal for digital assistants due to the human-like tone, and ability to give the assistant a unique character. Apple and Amazon have already achieved this, with recognizable voices and mannerisms for Siri and Alexa. Samsung will want to do the same with Bixby.

Bixby had a difficult start in life, despite Samsung acquiring AI experts — and the firm behind Siri — Viv Labs to help out with development, and the assistant wasn’t ready for international use when the Galaxy S8 launched. It’s still having problems, and is likely to get even more exposure soon. It’s almost certainly going to be a feature on the Galaxy Note 8, a very high-profile release expected in the next few months, and may be part of a future smart home speaker to take on Amazon’s Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s HomePod. Making Bixby sound, read, and interact more naturally is logically a high priority for Samsung. However, it’s unlikely Innoetics technology will ever be directly highlighted by the company, but news of the acquisition gives us an interesting insight into Samsung’s future plans.

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