Samsung’s ‘artificial human’ project definitely looks like a digital avatar

On Friday we wrote about Samsung’s mysterious ‘artificial human’ project Neon, speculating that the company was building realistic human avatars that could be used for entertainment and business purposes, acting as guides, receptionists, and more.

Now, a tweet from the project’s lead and some leaked videos pretty much confirm this — although they don’t give us nearly enough information to judge how impressive Neon is.

The lead of Neon, computer-human interaction researcher Paranav Mistry, tweeted the image below, apparently showing one of the project’s avatars. Mistry says the company’s “Core R3” technology can now “autonomously create new expressions, new movements, new dialog (even in Hindi), completely different from the original captured data.”

Flying to CES tomorrow, and the code is finally working 🙂 Ready to demo CORE R3. It can now autonomously create new expressions, new movements, new dialog (even in Hindi), completely different from the original captured data.

— Pranav Mistry (@pranavmistry) January 5, 2020

Unlisted videos taken from the source code on Neon’s home page revealed even more of these same human figures. The videos were originally posted on Reddit but have now been taken down. You can see them in the YouTube video below, though, and they do look extremely lifelike. In fact, they look just like videos — not computer-generated graphics.

And that’s the key question we have about Neon at this point: to what degree are these avatars computer-generated? Or are they based on high-fidelity video-capture that’s animated after the fact? And, even more importantly, how good are these avatars at talking and emoting like humans? A big claim associated with Neon is that these avatars can be mistaken for real humans — but that would be a huge leap forward over current technology.

In a recent interview, Mistry made clear he thinks “digital humans” will be a major technology in the 2020s. “Movies are full of examples where AI is brought into our world,” Mistry told LiveMint. “In Blade Runner 2049, Officer K develops a relationship with his AI hologram companion, Joi. While films may disrupt our sense of reality, ‘virtual humans’ or ‘digital humans’ will be reality. A digital human could extend its role to become a part of our everyday lives: a virtual news anchor, virtual receptionist, or even an AI-generated film star.”

But we’ll have to wait and see if Neon’s avatars can live up to these expectations. So far, the company is mainly offering us hype. (Just look at the red “ALIVE” text in the top right corner of the images Mistry tweeted — it’s a bit hammy.) Whatever the case, Neon will be showcased at CES in less than 48 hours, and we’ll be there to report on what we see and hear.

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