One of the most unique tech projects unveiled at CES 2020 this year is Neon, an “artificial human” designed by the Samsung Technology and Advanced Research Labs (STAR Labs).

Neon is basically a humanoid artificial intelligence (AI) avatar that looks like a human and can respond to questions in almost real time while giving expressions such as a smile or a raised eyebrow while doing so.

It’s a chat bot, but it isn’t a true AI assistant—it’s not intended to be all-knowing. You can’t ask it what year Elvis Presley died (1977), or which breed of dog is best (golden retriever) and expect an answer. Instead, the bot is there to keep someone company and serve as a friend.

SEE: Neon captures CES 2020 buzz with artificial humans, may help reinvent the future of work (ZDNet)

Pranav Mistry, CEO of Neon and head of STAR Labs, said he doesn’t consider Neon to be an AI assistant because it doesn’t have answers to every question. “They are virtual beings. They look like us, they behave like us. They are not AI assistants or bots,” he said.

“We always want to make technology more human,” Mistry added. “The human aspect is at the core of Neon.”

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

First look: Neon

Up close, Neon is fascinating and a bit creepy. It is almost surreal in its beauty, and the way it responds with human emotions and intelligence. If you ask it a question, it responds with a raised eyebrow or a quirky smile.

Each Neon artificial human basically looks like a video version of a real person–albeit a gorgeous real person who will never age or gain weight.

The technology powering the avatars is called Core R3— “reality,” “realtime” and “responsive”—and it allows Neons to react in less than a few milliseconds when a question is asked.

Mistry said he developed the project in part to answer the questions: “Can technology be more like human? Can machines learn more about us rather than [us] learning about machines and becoming like machines?”

The artificial humans can have conversations and behave like humans, and they will form memories and develop new skills. However, each one is unique, with its own personality that can develop over time.

By designing Neon, “We are able to push the boundaries of what science can create,” Mistry said.

Neon can also help provide a bridge to cultural barriers, such as language, since Neon speaks in a range of languages. An on-stage demo included questions in English, Korean, Chinese, and Hindu, and many other languages are possible.

“Neon will help us bridge that gap between languages,” Mistry said.

SEE: CES 2020: The big trends for business (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature)

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

Neon availability

But Neon is still approximately three to four years away from being available for the public.

“What you’re seeing today is nothing close to anywhere being ready,” Mistry said. “I’m a technologist. I’m a scientist. We wanted to give you a preview of what science boundaries can do. What you are seeing is a very early preview of a technology.”

Neon is funded by Samsung and is part of Samsung’s STAR Labs, but its artificial humans are not a Samsung product.

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic