Samsung, which is under pressure from the activist investor Elliott Management Corp. to split up its “unnecessarily complex” structure, yesterday acquired Viv, the hot artificial intelligence platform from the developers of Apple’s Siri.
Billed as “the intelligent interface to everything,” Viv “gives third-party developers the power to use and build conversational assistants and integrate a natural language-based interface into renowned applications and services,” according to the release announcing the deal. Terms were not disclosed.
“The deal announced Wednesday provides Samsung with technology to compete against Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. in the increasingly important field of programming computers to learn and respond as if they were human,” according to an AP story the Los Angeles Times. “[AI] has hatched a flock of voice-activated digital concierges — such as Siri, Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana and Google's Assistant — that work in personal computers, smartphones and Internet-connected speakers. Samsung plans to implant Viv into phones, televisions and a wide range of other devices.”
Viv was founded by Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer and Chris Brigham, who were all involved with the creation of Siri at SRI International Artificial Intelligence Center. Apple bought Siri in 2010; the three partners left Apple and founded Viv in 2012. They “will work closely” with Samsung’s Mobile Communications business, but continue to operate independently under its existing leadership, according to Samsung.
Kittlaus’ 11-minute presentation of Viv in action — “conversational commerce,” he calls it — drew much attention at TechCrunch’s Disrupt NY in May.
“Viv set out to leapfrog other digital assistants, including Siri, by using AI to answer more complex questions,” reports Richard Waters for Financial Times. “It also planned to embed its artificial intelligence in hardware made by many different manufacturers, creating what its founders hoped would be an independent alternative to the in-house assistants produced by Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft.”
“The first of two main pillars to Viv’s special sauce is its interconnected nature — other agents like Siri are only starting to allow multiple silos of information across apps and services to start talking to one another and become links in a user’s command chain. This allows more conversational and complex queries that more closely resemble how people actually talk,” writes Matthew Panzarino for TechCrunch. “The second is the programmatic nature of Viv’s back-end systems… .”
“If Viv operates as promised — admittedly a big ‘if’ — brands will be able to reach customers in a method entirely organic and instant in nature,” Jeff Piazza, co-founder and UX director at Behavior Design, told MediaPost’s Social Media Insider in June. “This truly doesn’t exist today, despite Amazon Echo's admirable attempts, and integration with existing services will be key to speed that adaption.”
Meanwhile, in a “a terse one-line statement,” Phys.org reports that Samsung management says “we will carefully review the shareholders' proposals” to reorganize the company made in a 10-page letter and 31-slide deck released publicly and to Samsung’s board on Wednesday.
“Affiliates of Elliott — Blake Capital LLC and Potter Capital LLC — called on the company to streamline and separate into two, conduct a tender, dual-list its resulting operating company on a U.S. exchange such as Nasdaq, pay shareholders a special dividend of 30 trillion Korean won ($27 billion) as well as ongoing regular dividends, and improve governance by adding three independent board members, among other steps,” Bloomberg’s Beth Jinks reports.
“Samsung is a textbook example of what pushy activists look for,” Robert Cyran writes for the New York Times. “Its stock trades at a 40% discount to a basket of its peers’.... It is also facing problems with one of its flagship products, the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.... And the Lee family, which controls the sprawling group of Samsung companies through cross-shareholdings, may be distracted.”
Its patriarch, Lee Kun-hee, is ill and South Korean inheritance laws are taxing, Cyran tell us. His only son, Lee Jae-yong, was promoted to vice chairman in 2012 and nominated to join the board of directors last month.
His nomination, which will be voted on at a shareholders’ meeting on Oct. 27, “signals that Lee has been brought to the forefront of Samsung's management and decision-making, testing his ability to do the top job amid a global recall of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, analysts say,” Kim Deok-hyun reports for the Yonhap News Agency.
A replacement Galaxy Note 7 caught fire on a Southwest Airlines plane still at the gate in Louisville, Ky., yesterday, adding to the company’s woes, Jordan Golson reports for The Verge.
We’re not quite at the point where vice chairman Lee can ask with confidence: “Hey Viv, is this scheme Elliott dreamed up worth doing?” But we’re no doubt getting there.