Hello Big BrotherSamsung Electronics has its hands full grappling with its public fall from grace after deciding to discontinue its latest handheld innovation, the exploding Galaxy Note7. But a bigger threat looms that could seriously endanger its smartphone operations and its standing in the world in the greater scheme of things. Google, a software giant, has re-entered the hardware market with the Pixel Phone, which runs on artificial intelligence. That makes a phone not just smart but predicts what the user wants and needs.
While unveiling the phone on Oct. 4, Google CEO Sundar Pichai declared that the next evolution of computing is moving from “mobile first to AI-first.” The era of Big Brother, in which connected machines analyze, store, and distribute our thinking and behavior and dominate everyday lives, may be arriving sooner than we thought. We have lived through the dizzy evolution of phones, from devices with dials to smartphones. The coming of an AI phone age feels scary.
The Pixel Phone is based on Google Assistant, a voice-activated smart computing system. A smartphone and AI-powered phone are completely different technologies. A smartphone can be entertaining. An AI phone is a personal assistant that knows what you want and need possibly better or faster than you do.
You use a smartphone to search for information and interconnect with others on web-based networking platforms. But an artificially intelligent phone can do what the user has to do using its own sourcing and judgment. It can manage your schedule and advise what to wear for the day, what hotel suits you and your budget, and what you need to buy. It studies the user’s behavior, habits, and relationships to make the right judgment and advice. It can even conduct a conversation. The phone could be the other you — someone who knows you better than yourself.
The Pixel Phone hits shops in the United States and Europe next week. There is a lot of talk and many presumptions because nobody has actually used it yet. Some think it will be no better than an iPhone and Apple’s Siri personal assistant. Others that remember the fast-learning system of AlphaGo predict infinite possibilities.
The market is not interested in the fact that we may soon live with a Big Brother watching our every move. AI phones have become a reality and the real question is whether Google will be as successful in hardware as it has been with software. The media is already hyping the idea that Google is becoming the next Apple — it will dominate the hardware and software market. It could capitalize on an Android market that has been enlarged thanks to manufacturers like Samsung Electronics. Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Note7 debacle could not have come at a better time for Google.
Strangely, local industry remains lukewarm to the new entrant. It is skeptical of a software company succeeding in the hardware market. Google’s first stunt with the Nexus phone failed. Some are uncertain whether the phone is just for show.
Two days after Google unveiled the Pixel Phone, Samsung Electronics announced it was taking over AI platform developer Viv Labs. As the exploding Galaxy Note7 has underscored, Samsung cannot sustain market dominance purely with hardware innovations. It would be natural for it to make a foray into the AI software sector.
The problem is that the manufacturer is not used to software technology and thinks of AI as an assistant that would help consumers use their devices easier. It does not understand that AI could shape the world we live in. Its hardware engineers may be lacking software sensitivity.
Google will be building on its vast troves of information and add cloud accessibility to absorb even more data to read people and direct their lives. Samsung will never catch up with a mindset revolving purely around hardware. In the AI phone world, the mind will become a company’s winning asset. The minds of Koreans could one day end up in the hands of Google.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 12, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.