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So, what is Samsung's Bixby AI assistant really made of?

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It’s not clear if Bixby is based on technology from Viv Labs, or Samsung’s own S Voice software

samsung s health app stock Vlad Savov

From all the reports we’ve seen so far, it seems clear that a new AI assistant is going to be a big part of Samsung’s next flagship phone, the Galaxy S8. There has been plenty of speculation about its features (we’ve heard it will work in up to eight languages; that it will conduct visual searches from the camera; and that it will be called “Bixby”) but in terms of what we know for certain, there’s actually not a lot to go on.

One of the biggest unknowns is to what degree will Bixby be based on technology from Viv Labs (a startup founded by the creators of Siri that Samsung bought last year), as opposed to relying on Samsung’s own digital assistant, S Voice, which has never been much of a performer since it was introduced in 2012.

It’s been assumed, based on a story about the new Galaxy S8 from Reuters last November that Samsung “plans to integrate ... Viv into the Galaxy smartphones,” that Viv Labs’ technology will form the backbone of the new AI assistant. But, a report from The Wall Street Journal suggests otherwise, stating that: “Bixby will rely on an upgraded version of Samsung’s homegrown virtual assistant service, dubbed S Voice, rather than on Viv Labs technology.”

It’s an important difference, as S Voice has never really taken off with consumers, with complaints about its limited functionality and slow reaction times. By comparison, demos of Viv have been impressive — highlighting a voice assistant that can handle complex requests with multiple clauses (e.g., “Viv, what was the weather like in San Francisco three Thursdays ago?”), and that connects easily to a number of third-party services. If Bixby is based on Viv, it’s a good reason to get excited about its functionality. If it’s not, well, adjust your expectations accordingly.

Ultimately, though, we can’t really say much for certain, simply because the wording on these reports have been ambiguous, and any digital assistant is comprised of many different moving part. When the WSJ says Bixby will “rely” on S Voice, does that means on its natural language processing skills, or on its ties to Samsung’s native apps? When Reuters says Samsung plans to “integrate” Viv into the Galaxy smartphones, which bits of Viv’s technology is it talking about? Who knows!

Really, we need to wait until Samsung unveils the S8, which is rumored to be happening at the end of next month. Then, we can have a little chat with Bixby ourselves.