Siri Creators Score Again With Viv, Sold to Samsung in A.I. Race

Samsung entered the conversational artificial intelligence fray in a major way Wednesday with its purchase of Viv Labs, a San Jose, CA-based startup led by three of the key people behind virtual assistant Siri.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Viv’s roughly 30 employees will keep their jobs, Recode reported. Viv will work closely with Samsung’s mobile communications business, but it will continue operating independently under its current leadership, Samsung said in a press release.

Viv raised about $30 million in venture funding, according to PitchBook and media reports. Its investors include Horizons Ventures, Iconiq Capital, and Pritzker Group Venture Capital.

Viv was founded in 2012 by Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer, and Chris Brigham. Kittlaus, the CEO (pictured), and Cheyer, the vice president of engineering, previously co-founded Siri and held the same roles at that virtual personal assistant startup, before Apple acquired it for a reported $150 million-plus in 2010. Brigham was Siri’s chief architect, also his role at Viv. (Siri’s third co-founder, product designer Tom Gruber, still works at Apple, according to his LinkedIn profile.)

Siri, a spinoff of Menlo Park, CA-based SRI International, gave the world its first widely used virtual assistant, thanks to the reach of Apple’s iPhone. Siri has its flaws, but it was a first step toward turning science fiction—smart, conversational computer programs such as Samantha in the film Her—into reality. Siri ushered in a wave of competing products, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s Now and Assistant programs. (In a similar vein, Nuance bought Vlingo in 2011.)

And here comes Viv, which seems like an attempt by Siri’s creators to make a better version of Siri. During a May product demonstration at TechCrunch Disrupt NY, Viv’s virtual assistant was reportedly able to answer complex questions from Kittlaus, including follow-up queries that required the program to remember context from what was said moments earlier.

The Viv team has also made efforts to integrate its assistant more seamlessly with third-party apps, such as Venmo, and to give outside developers the ability to build conversational assistants into their applications and services.

Samsung’s most obvious plan for Viv would be to embed it in its smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy. But the Korean tech giant also signaled plans to incorporate virtual assistants into its other products—think TVs, home appliances, and smartwatches.

For Viv, joining forces with Samsung enables it to more quickly push its technology to more people around the world, much the same way the Apple deal put Siri in the hands of millions of smartphone users.

“We see a future that is decidedly beyond apps—where you can get what you need quickly and easily no matter where you are, or what device you are near,” Kittlaus said in a press release. “Samsung offers us a unique opportunity to deliver a single conversational interface to the world’s apps and services across a diverse range of products, at global scale.”

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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