Is it possible to have a fully virtual, computationally created being that looks and behaves like us? That’s what Pranav Mistry, president and CEO of Samsung STAR Labs, is working to build. One of the most awaited demos at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 in Las Vegas, the Neon. Life, involves human-like digital avatars who look, speak and move like real people, respond in real time, have millions of human expressions and are built to have their own personalities and original thoughts. A digital species of sorts.
Mistry, a computer scientist and inventor who grew up in the small Gujarati town of Palanpur, is known for creating Sixth Sense, a gesture-controlled wearable device. He has previously worked with Microsoft, Google and NASA, among others. At his CES 2020 presentation, Mistry says that if there was one cause he could dedicate his life to, it would be the Neon - a mode to make machines more human.
At the demonstration, Mistry introduced a few kinds of Neon: a yoga instructor, a flight attendant, a student. Currently, the Neons work with two kinds of technology- Core R3 (which stands for reality, real time and responsiveness); and the in-progress SPECTRA, which will give Neons long-standing memory, like the human brain.
Mistry says that the technology is still raw, and the beta version of the Neon will debut at the end of 2020, at an event called Neon World. “This isn’t something that will be launched today and you can have in your homes tomorrow,” he said at his CES presentation. “We are becoming more like machines, rather than the other way around. That’s what we want to fix.”
His professional pursuit has been about making machines more human. When he was in India, Mistry worked with the India Incubation Centre to make Gujarati keyboards. ``I’ve always wanted to connect technology to everyone at the grassroots’’, he said.
Behind creating `artificial humans’ or Neon, he aims to make technology more like humans, so people don’t have to worry whether we can read and write. His thought that rather than humans learning the language of machines, can machines learn the language of humans was the main driver behind the project.
But it is very different than what artificial intelligence (AI) assistants like Siri and Alexa do. Mistry’s goal is not to have something that can answer questions for you. He wants to give technology that is humane to talk to.
Neons and AI assistants are fundamentally different in a couple of ways. Neons are not connected to the internet to give you answers, and unlike AI assistants, Neons can learn. They will have memory with SPECTRA, which makes them much more intuitive.
Right now, devices need passwords, two-factor authentication. But Neons have the ability to recognise the default user and remember interactions, just as a human friend would. Not just owner of the phone, currently, anyone can give Alexa or Siri instructions. A Neon would be more secure because it recognises the owner. Each Neon has a different personality, and character traits that will evolve over the years. When one interacts with a Neon, it will register that user and learn about his or hers likes and dislikes.
Use of Neons would start with the corporate world, with selected partners. The Neon has two core technology aspects - the Core R3 and Spectra. But currently, they come enabled with Core R3, and can connect to any third-party value-added service.
Giving an example, Mistry asked to think of a bank in India, let’s say in Andhra Pradesh. The bank could need people with domain-specific knowledge who can also speak Telugu. It can easily plug in this knowledge into the Core R3, and ‘hire’ a Neon to interact with customers. The Neon can show up on any phone or screen and give customers the comfort of talking to a human. Similarly, hotel services could use Neons for any-time bookings or concierge services. Another Neon could become your fitness instructor, or your Marathi or Spanish teacher.
And, it’s impact won’t be on cutting jobs, but on widening the reach of technology. For instance, Neons could be used in the media services industry. If news breaks in the middle of the night, a whole crew has to be woken up and brought in. Instead, a Neon can deliver the news break in 50 different Indian languages, automatically translated, instead of having to reshoot multiple times or with multiple anchors. The news anchor won’t be replaced in this scenario, but augmented.
The power of Core R3 will be used to combat concerns of deepfakes and fake news. Neon will not modify what someone has said or interfere with reality. There’s no fake news, because the content is generated by Core R3. It’s not a real person but a Neon, with its own personality and emotions. Unlike Siri or Alexa, which are universal characters, Neons will have their own voices and be unique with each and every user. That’s what makes them private and ethical. (Courtesy Forbes India).