Samsung has just acquired Korean artificial intelligence startup Fluenty, and the acquisition has already sparked rumors that the tech giant could be planning an upgrade for its AI assistant Bixby. The acquisition comes in the wake of the announcement that the company has named a new chief to lead its software development department.

Samsung revealed this week that it has acquired Fluenty, a startup that has developed a machine learning-based chatbot. The startup is also known for being founded by researchers from top tech firms in South Korea including Naver, LG Electronics and Kakao, according to The Investor.

The acquisition comes a little more than a year since Fluenty joined Samsung’s startup accelerating program that provided funding worth 100 million won or US$18,000. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise why the South Korean giant pushed to acquire the startup. The deal reportedly includes Fluenty’s engineers, technologies and assets.

Fluenty was established in January 2015. The company has launched a smart reply assistant app in English and Korean that’s used by many popular messenger platforms such as WhatsApp, KakaoTalk, Telegram, Facebook Messenger and Line. The chatbot was designed to respond to queries with witty statements that do not, in any way, sound auto-generated.

Samsung is reportedly hoping for its latest acquisition to help in upgrading Bixby, which has unfortunately received a lukewarm response from consumers since its launch. Moreover, Bixby is still struggling when it comes to picking up English and Chinese commands. It remains to be seen if Samsung is really going to integrate Fluenty’s app with Bixby.

Meanwhile, it’s evident that Samsung is seriously working hard to improve its AI assistant’s English service. The company just named the new chief of Samsung Research America who will be tasked to lead the firm’s software development, especially Bixby’s services for English-speaking consumers.

A source has disclosed to Korea Herald that the new chief is none other than Lee Joon-hyun, a senior vice president in the development of a voice recognition module at Digital Media & Communications R&D Center in Seoul. Lee Joon-hyun is replacing the former U.S. research chief Kim Yong-jae, who has been moved to Korea to lead software research at the mobile business division.

Samsung refused to comment on Lee Joon-hyun’s designation, but a source familiar with the matter said that the new chief is now expected to oversee the needed upgrade for Bixby, which received tepid response from Galaxy users when it was introduced in July of this year. The reception to Bixby has been so unfortunate that market tracker Strategic Analysts predicts the service’s market share to dive from 12.7 percent to 5.4 percent in the next five years.

Last year, Samsung acquired U.S.-based AI startup VivLabs, which is credited for being the developer of the earlier version of Apple’s famous intelligent personal assistant, Siri. It’s worth noting that the acquisition took place after the current version of Bixby was created. Hence, the VivLabs staff weren’t able to participate in the development of Samsung’s AI assistant prior its official launch.


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