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Samsung snaps up AI upstart Viv Labs

Viv's voice assistant is designed to accept natural language commands to perform everyday tasks.

A stage demo of Viv earlier this year on a MacBook showed how it could launch app-like things via voice.
Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Samsung appears poised to shake up the market for voice assistants with its latest acquisition.

The electronics giant said Wednesday it had agreed to acquire Viv Labs, the artificial intelligence startup behind Viv -- the voice assistant that aims to handle everyday tasks for you all on its own. The multiplatform software can be used to do things like order flowers, book a hotel room, or research weather conditions, all through natural language commands.

Terms were not revealed, and Samsung declined to comment on the sale price for the San Jose, Calif.-based company, which says it has about 50 employees.

AI, a term used for the ability of a machine, computer or system to exhibit humanlike intelligence, is widely expected to represent the next frontier of computing. With that in mind, AI-powered voice assistants have suddenly become all the rage, offering a hands-free and more natural way to ask questions, find information and manage busy lives.

Viv is just the latest in a string of virtual assistants hoping to help you run your home and life that includes Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Google Now. But Viv's creators say their software takes the concept further by understanding your requests and engaging in conversation with you to fulfill them.

Viv also has an impressive pedigree: co-creator Dag Kittlaus also co-created Siri, which Apple later purchased and made the "voice" of iPhone.

But more than just launching yet another smart speaker for your home, Samsung may be looking to incorporate the technology into other appliances it already sells, such as phones, washing machines and refrigerators. Viv might also help the company avoid the debacle it landed in last year when it was revealed that the voice-recognition feature on some Samsung Smart TVs could be capturing and transmitting users' conversations to third parties.