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CNBC

Samsung is buying an AI start-up to take on Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant

California start-up Viv is led by one of Siri’s co-founders.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 October, 2016, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 1:04pm

With personal assistants all the rage, Samsung has decided it needs to get in on the act.

The Korean electronics giant said Wednesday it is buying Viv, a San Jose-based start-up created by Siri co-founder Dag Kittlaus.

Neither company would talk about the financial terms, but all 30 or so Viv employees will be joining Samsung, Kittlaus told Recode.

Samsung said it isn’t approaching artificial intelligence as broadly as Google or Apple.

“Our focus is really more device-centric,” Samsung mobile unit CTO Injong Rhee said in an interview. “How do we revolutionise how users interact with our devices and our appliances?”

Rhee said it is an area that Samsung is investing more in and said the first fruits should show up in next year’s flagship Galaxy phones, with future plans to integrate the technology into televisions and other Internet-connected gear.

Viv’s approach, Kittlaus said, focuses on the idea that the best artificial intelligence systems will need to work in an open way with thousands of partners, operating more like Wikipedia than today’s more closed automated assistants.

While Samsung doesn’t have the best historical track record of integrating software and service companies, Rhee pointed to the recent purchases of LoopPay and SmartThings as showing that the company can successfully bring outside services into the company.

Kittlaus said he became satisfied in recent months that Samsung was the right partner.

“We, of course, did our own independent inquiries about this issue,” he said. “Samsung has drastically changed in terms of how they handle acquisitions and integrations over the last three years and really gotten good.”

The deal was led by Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, the unit run by former Google executive David Eun and also the group behind the US$200 million SmartThings deal.

CNBC’s parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode’s parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.