Robot. Picture: 123RF/Pavel Chagochkin
Robot. Picture: 123RF/Pavel Chagochkin

Samsung’s voice-powered digital assistant, Bixby, has been upgraded. At Samsung’s recent Unpacked event, Ji Soo Yi, the company’s vice-president of artificial intelligence (AI) strategy, said Bixby was designed to "get things done", but now, on the Note 9, it will be "more conversational, more personal and more useful".

Thanks to AI’s new ability to retain recently received information, it can build a conversation with you, making the interaction more fluid and less repetitive.

"Being conversational is good, but it’s not good enough," says Yi. "Your close friends already know what you like. Bixby won’t replace your best friend, but it is designed to do similar things."

Bixby will now tailor its answers to you based on your previous preferences, and will even make a dinner reservation, with your party number and preferred time based on previous experiences. All without you having to open a single app.

We have entered an age in which AI can begin to converse with you and tailor experiences for you, and this technology is sure to be applied in another, unrelated market.

One example is the Harmony AI app designed by Matt McMullen of Abyss Creations. His RealDoll, is a realistic lifesize figure made of thermoplastic elastomers, found in bottle-cap liners and dental guards.

He has become the leader in the sex-doll industry, and he has his sights set on taking his craft one step further with Realbotix, Forbes reports.

He started with the AI app a few years ago. It enables users to make what in essence is a more sensual version of Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant, Siri, for $20 a year. According to the Realbotix website, the AI can be tailored to suit your needs: assign it any of 12 personality traits, give it a name and even select moods.

Later this year the commercial robot version of Harmony will be put on sale, the international congress on Love & Sex with Robots has announced. McMullen will be the keynote speaker at the organisation’s fourth annual congress.

An Engadget documentary tells how the AI app will now exist within a modular "animagnetic" robotic-animated head that fits atop any existing RealDoll body. The head can be obtained separately and the, well, full-bodied package is also available.

You can ask Harmony questions via the AI app on your phone and it replies in real time in "real life" with phonetically moving lips and blinking eyes that flutter. McMullen told Engadget that Harmony’s primary function is conversation and companionship.

The app can hold a conversation, blink and stare into your eyes with its eerily lifelike ones. Soon those eyes will have cameras to detect movement and shapes for more realistic interaction.

"It’s to create this illusion that you have an ongoing relationship with your doll through this AI character that is running through the robot," McMullen explains.

Off the success of Harmony and its "male" counterpart Henry, McMullen has partnered with Sanctuary AI in Vancouver. He hopes to create a robot that will be indistinguishable from the real thing in the next five to 10 years.

As is the case with any good tech, you will find a host of cheaper knockoffs in China.

Lucy is a sex doll with built-in AI and built-in confidence.

"Everybody loves me when they see me, every driver who sees me picks me up, beer bottles open when I show up," the doll chimes in an HBO channel’s Vice News segment from unmoving lips as she stares blankly with her emotionless eyes.

Lucy was built by Yoyo Liu, the general manager for WM dolls, who used to make mannequins before putting her dolls’ real-life qualities to other uses. Liu told Vice News that she now makes about 30,000 customisable dolls a year that can cost up to $10,000 each. WM dolls make up about 20% of the Chinese sex-doll market, which according to Liu grows about 30% a year.

Thanks to the previous one-child rule, Foreign Policy magazine reports, China will sit with a surplus of 30-million men by 2030, creating a burgeoning market.

Zheng Jiajia, a former Huawei computer engineer, "married" one of his first AI sex dolls, Yingying, in a mock ceremony last April, to protest against the Chinese dating scene. The magazine reports that his nuptials included a vow to upgrade the robot’s abilities until it can walk and do housework.

Vice News shows that the doll now lives on an office chair in a corner, covered in dust and with a scarf over her head.

A newer model takes the prized spot next to his bed.

So it would appear that regardless of what might come of Bixby’s new conversational advances, the owners of these dolls still have a long way to go.

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