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Bixby brings AI to life

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Samsung has announced its AI service – Bixby. The cloud-based AI interface is imbedded in all the phone’s applications and it will soon be seen on all of its devices. CRAIGE FLEISCHER of Samsung South Africa, tells us what we can expect.

Technology is supposed to make life easier, but as the capabilities of machines such as smartphones, PCs, home appliances and IoT devices become more diverse, the interfaces on these devices are becoming too complicated for users to take advantage of many of these functions conveniently.

User interface designers have to make trade off decisions to cram many functions into a small screen or bury them deeper in layers of menu trees. Ultimately users are at the mercy of the designers with an increasingly steep curve that makes learning a new device difficult. This is the fundamental limitation of the current human-to-machine interface. Since Samsung makes millions of devices, this problem impacts the core of our business.

Samsung has a conceptually new philosophy to the problem: instead of humans learning how the machine interacts with the world (a reflection of the abilities of designers), it is the machine that needs to learn and adapt to us. The interface must be natural and intuitive enough to flatten the learning curve regardless of the number of functions being added. With this new approach, Samsung has employed artificial intelligence, reinforcing deep learning concepts to the core of our user interface designs. Bixby is the ongoing result of this effort.

Bixby will be a new intelligent interface on our devices. Fundamentally different from other voice agents or assistants in the market, Bixby offers a deeper experience thanks to proficiency in these three properties:

  1. Completeness

When an application becomes Bixby-enabled, Bixby will be able to support almost every task that the application is capable of performing using the conventional interface (i.e. touch commands). Most existing agents currently support only a few selected tasks for an application and therefore confuse users about what works or what doesn’t work by voice command. The completeness property of Bixby will simplify user education on the capability of the agent, making the behaviours of the agent much more predictable.

  1. Context Awareness

When using a Bixby-enabled application, users will be able to call upon Bixby at any time and it will understand the current context and state of the application and will allow users to carry out the current work-in-progress continuously. Bixby will allow users to weave various modes of interactions including touch or voice at any context of the application, whichever they feel is most comfortable and intuitive. Most existing agents completely dictate the interaction modality and, when switching among the modes, may either start the entire task over again, losing all the work in progress, or simply not understand the user’s intention.

  1. Cognitive Tolerance

When the number of supported voice commands gets larger, most users are cognitively challenged to remember the exact form of the voice commands. Most agents require users to state the exact commands in a set of fixed forms. Bixby will be smart enough to understand commands with incomplete information and execute the commanded task to the best of its knowledge, and then will prompt users to provide more information and take the execution of the task in piecemeal. This makes the interface much more natural and easier to use.

We know that adopting new ways to interact with your devices will require a change in user behaviour. The inconvenience of learning a new interface can cause friction and force users to revert back to old habits (e.g. the touch interface). At the same time we believe the key to success for a new voice interface is to design a scheme that reduces friction and makes the experience significantly more rewarding than the existing interface. So at its core, Bixby will help remove friction. It will simplify user education with new voice interfaces and will make using your phone even more seamless and intuitive.

Another example of removing friction will be the dedicated Bixby button that will be located on the side of our next device. Confusion around activating a voice interface is a barrier we have removed to make it feel easier and more comfortable to give commands. For example, instead of taking multiple steps to make a call – turning on and unlocking the phone, looking for the phone application, clicking on the contact bar to search for the person that you’re trying to call and pressing the phone icon to start dialling – you will be able to do all these steps with one push of the Bixby button and a simple command.

There has been a lot of excitement and speculation about what we will deliver with the launch of the Galaxy S8, especially due to the advancements in artificial intelligence. We do have a bold vision of revolutionising the human-to-machine interface, but that vision won’t be realised overnight. Ambition takes time.

Bixby will be our first step on a journey to completely open up new ways of interacting with your phone. At the launch of the Galaxy S8, a subset of preinstalled applications will be Bixby-enabled. This set will continue to expand over time. Our plan is to eventually release a tool (in SDK) to enable third-party developers to make their applications and services Bixby-enabled easily.

Starting with our smartphones, Bixby will be gradually applied to all our appliances. In the future you would be able to control your air conditioner or TV through Bixby. Since Bixby will be implemented in the cloud, as long as a device has an internet connection and simple circuitry to receive voice inputs, it will be able to connect with Bixby. As the Bixby ecosystem grows, we believe Bixby will evolve from a smartphone interface to an interface for your life.

Bixby is at the heart of our software and services evolution as a company. We are fundamentally and conceptually changing our attitude toward software and services and working hard on innovation throughout all aspects of our mobile ecosystem. Our investment in engineering resources speaks for itself – we have thousands of software developers supporting this effort. This is something that I’m very excited about. Innovating in software and services enables opportunities for creativity and the ability to build new experiences from the ground up. With the continued investment from Samsung on artificial intelligence, the possibility of what Bixby can become is endless.

  • Craige Fleischer,  Director Integrated Mobility at Samsung South Africa

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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