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Samsung acquires Korean chatbot start-up

Nov 29,2017
Samsung Electronics has acquired a Korean start-up specializing in conversational artificial intelligence, the latest acquisition in a string of moves to bolster its AI development.

The acquisition of Fluenty is Samsung’s first purchase of a Korean start-up. The tech conglomerate will absorb Fluenty’s 10-person staff.

Samsung said in a statement Tuesday that it bought the two-year-old start-up because of its technology that allows robots to process natural language and have conversations with humans.

Fluenty is best known for Fluenty.ai, a system that allows software developers to build their own chatbots. The start-up also developed a “smart reply” feature that can be applied to messaging apps.

When a user receives a text - like a request from a friend for dinner - the smart reply feature can offer a list of possible answers like “yes,” “no,” “maybe.” The company says the feature is useful for drivers and people with physical disabilities.

Fluenty received seed funding from the Korean accelerator program Future Play and attracted 500 million won in additional investment from venture capitalists Global Brain and Innobase last year. Samsung Electronics also selected Fluenty for its start-up support program, Creative Square, last year.

The employees at Fluenty, mostly former AI engineers at Naver, Daum, LG Electronics and KT, will likely help upgrade Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby.

Last October, Samsung acquired Silicon Valley-based developer Viv Labs, founded by the creators of Apple’s Siri, to help the Korean company develop its own voice assistant.

“We are interested in securing excellent talent [in artificial intelligence],” a Samsung spokesman said Tuesday.

As artificial intelligence has become a key driver of profit growth, tech companies from diverse sectors are joining the battle to take the lead.

Phone makers Samsung and Apple, as well as internet giants like Google and Amazon and Korean telecom companies like SK Telecom and KT, are all developing their own AI software.

In response to the trend, Samsung established a research center dedicated to artificial intelligence in an organization overhaul last week.

The center, established under Samsung’s integrated research lab called Samsung Research, will develop technologies related to artificial intelligence, including software that connects home appliances to mobile devices, and mediate between the conglomerate’s different business divisions for better collaboration.

The ultimate goal for Samsung is to apply AI technology to a range of products and services offered by the company, including smartphones, electronics devices and home appliances.


BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]