Samsung buys AI assistant in desperate bid to catch up to Google.

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Google's CEO Sundar Pichai said we're now living in an "AI first world" during the Pixel announcement on Tuesday. Apparently Pichai is right, as Google competitor Samsung has just purchased AI startup Viv.

Viv is a San Jose, California-based startup led by Dag Kittlaus, who co-created Siri before Apple purchased it in 2010. Viv will continue to operate independently, but will provide services to Samsung's platforms. Samsung did not reveal how much it paid for Viv.

Samsung already has its own voice assistant, called S Voice, but it has lagged behind competitors like Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant. Google wants AI to be a part of your everyday life by embedding its Assistant in its Google Pixel smartphone, Google Home speaker, and messaging app Allo. It appears this is Samsung's plan as well.

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What makes Viv unique among today's voice assistants is that it's designed to work across apps and services. The assistant also allows for more conversational queries, so users can use Viv naturally.

Samsung has historically created closed, proprietary systems, but recent acquisitions show the phone maker is changing its ways. Samsung purchased both open mobile payments system LoopPay and open smart home platform SmartThings over the last few years.

A smarter AI

"It's the simplest way for the world to interact with devices, services and things everywhere," reads Viv's website. "Viv is taught by the world, knows more than it is taught, and learns every day."

According to Kittlaus, Viv is able to understand a user's intent, and will write its own code to perform a task that it didn't previously know how to do.

"Instead of having to write every code instructed, you're really just describing what you want it to do," said Kittlaus to TechCrunch in an interview. "The whole idea of Viv is that developers can go in and build any experience that they want."

Those are big promises for a service that isn't even out yet.

For Samsung, the purchase of Viv would help the company diversify its products, and would let it distance itself from Google. Now that Google is manufacturing its own phones and software, Samsung has to compete by creating its own software and services. Its Tizen mobile operating system has yet to take off, but it makes the company less dependent on Google's Android.

Samsung could integrate Viv across its devices, specifically with home appliances and wearables. Samsung's latest smartwatch, the Gear S3, runs Tizen, and the company could get a leg-up on the competition if it adds an easily accessible voice assistant that's always with you.

Lewis Leong
Lewis Leong is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He has an unhealthy obsession with headphones and can identify cars simply by listening to their exhaust notes.