What is a Neon artificial human?

Samsung’s Star Labs has unveiled a few details about its Neon artificial humans, but this isn’t Blade Runner

Think of an artificial human and you might start wondering whether Rick Deckard was human or a replicant. Which is arguably more interesting than what Samsung subsidiary Star Labs unveiled at the annual CES tech show in Las Vegas: Neon, its so-called artificial humans. 

Lifelike robots did not run the Star Labs booth at the conference centre. Instead, it turns out “artificial human” is how to describe an avatar in a way that will guarantee annoyed journalists write about your launch, although not necessarily with kind words.

What is an artificial human?

It’s not Harrison Ford having an existential crisis about the nature of what it is to be human. Instead, Star Labs’ Neons are high-end avatars, designed to be a friendly face for chatbots, characters in games or to read out content in videos – perhaps one day graduating to digital TV presenters. 

Why wouldn’t we just use actual humans?

Personally, we’d prefer human newsreaders, but as we interact more with digital services, be it voice assistants or chatbots, companies will need to give those services a face to make them easier to use. By digitally creating fake humans, companies can have their own characters to act as financial advisors, concierges or customer service representatives.

Indeed, it isn’t just Samsung’s Star Labs producing such digital humans; IPsoft’s AI helper Amelia is also getting an advanced lifelike avatar of its own, allowing for more “true to life” communication and collaboration between the machine and human workers, the company says. 

What can they do?

Alongside reading out a script, these pretty bots can be deployed in a variety of ways, with Star Labs even suggesting they could replace actors or become our friends. Not only do they look realistic, but the system behind Neon can read our emotions and react to them. Their main task, however, is answering our questions, something chatbots currently struggle to achieve. These humanoid avatars are simply a whizzy interface to make talking to a machine feel slightly less strange. 

How is a Neon made?

Right now, Neons are based on real people – so much for the “artificial human” claim. Star Labs captures the person’s likeness, and then uses a rendering engine paired with AI to create millions of facial expressions, gestures and responses. Eventually, Star Labs hopes that Neon avatars could be created out of nothing, with no human acting as the base model.  

How long until we can have our own artificial human?

Star Labs CEO Pranav Mistry explained that the demonstration at CES was only a preview, so it will be some time before the product is ready. IPsoft’s Amelia avatar is already here, but while it looks human enough and can respond via natural language processing, it’s one single digital human – and, of course, it’s designed to look like a young, blonde female; after all, what else would a personal assistant look like? Perhaps the real upside of Neon will be introducing some diversity into the world of digital humans.

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