Samsung’s AI strategy focuses on user trust, empowerment: Larry Heck

By Song Su-hyun
  • Published : Jan 14, 2019 - 16:04
  • Updated : Jan 14, 2019 - 16:04

SILICON VALLEY, California -- Larry Heck is a renowned figure in Silicon Valley, spending 27 years working with the world’s leading tech moguls on bringing forward the era of artificial intelligence.

After introducing AI services at Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, Heck joined Samsung in November 2017 to improve its fledgling AI platform Bixby, as the South Korean IT hardware manufacturer kick-started its drive for AI.

“Despite the last five to seven years of progress, we are still very early in this space,” said Heck, head of Samsung Research America based in Mountain View, California, in a meeting with the Korean press at Samsung’s Devices Solutions Americas office Thursday. 

Larry Heck, head of Samsung Research America, speaks during a meeting with reporters at Samsung Device Solutions Americas in Silicon Valley, on Thursday. (Samsung Electronics)

The Samsung AI Center, led by Heck, is located near the DSA office, Samsung’s US semiconductors branch, and Samsung Strategy & Innovation Center. The offices opened in 2016 to become the firm’s hub for new strategies and technologies bracing for the “fourth industrial revolution.”

Among Samsung’s seven AI Centers across the globe, Heck’s center in Silicon Valley focuses on technologies that improve interactions between AI systems and human users. 

The office of Samsung Device Solutions Americas in Mountain View, California. (Samsung Electronics)

“If you ask something that’s outside of what they understand, you will often hear responses like ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand’ or ‘I’m still learning.’ The issue with this is that the conversation at that point is over,” he continued.

Describing his role as thinking from the perspective of user’s trust, Heck explained that users wish to rely on a personal assistant on the premise that they will always be helpful to them.

“I don‘t think we have established that yet.”

Due to an insufficient user base, the growth and adoption of personal assistants have been slow, he said.

The key would be to figure out what types of devices users tend to prefer and what kind of assistance they want from them.

It is a significant technological challenge for companies like Samsung, which provides around 500 million devices worldwide, to build a personal assistant that has highly personalized and customized AI for each individual, Heck said.

As a solution, the Bixby research head has initiated what he called “user empowerment,” which highlights the importance of the influence that users have in building up personalized AI capabilities on the multiple devices they use.

For instance, a device would follow the user’s needs through multiple channels and not just voice, such as by being equipped with sensors that can detect and collect visual motions and receive direct-touch inputs.

The user, in other words, would be teaching the AI, and Samsung would be enabling it, Heck said.

“For Samsung this is a big advantage. They have a range of devices and also the quality. And frankly this is a big reason why I came to Samsung. Because I wanted to try to solve this problem,” he added.

By Song Su-hyun (