Google poaches Samsung's technology chief

SEOUL — Google has poached Samsung Electronics‘ former Chief Technology Officer Rhee In-jong to strengthen its internet of things business, with an aim to connecting a wide range of its services from its cloud to vehicles to voice assistants and home security.

Rhee, who played an instumental role in developing Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby, said that he had joined Google as an entrepreneur-in-residence, a position to lead the company’s internet of things sector. Rhee left Samsung in December and has stayed in the U.S. since then.

“I am thrilled and excited to tell you that I have joined Google,” said Rhee on his LinkedIn page. “One of the first things I would like to do … is to get these efforts [IoT-related products and assets] coordinated and aligned toward a concerted IoT story of Google.”

Google Korea also confirmed that Rhee will join the company’s headquarters in California, but declined to elaborate. Rhee said that he will be reporting to Diane Greene, CEO of Google Cloud and board member of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

Google is accelerating the development of its artificial intelligence technology to create synergies with an advanced internet of things ecosystem. The U.S. internet company had aggressively promoted its Google Assistant at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, a sign that it was ready to compete with Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa which leads the market.

Google also has expanded partnerships with electronics manufacturers, offering its voice assistant services to smart displays and AI speakers made by LG Electronics, JBL and Lenovo Group among others.

Analysts say that Rhee’s departure will be a blow to Samsung which is also in its own drive to strengthen its AI and internet of things sectors. Rhee was the architect behind its voice assistant Bixby as well as the company’s mobile payment system Samsung Pay during his six-and-a-half year stint. Samsung declined to comment on his leave.

Rhee, 52, was an academic before joining Samsung in 2011. He had taught computer science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill for 14 years and earned a doctorate in 1994. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering at the Kyungpook National University in Daegu in 1989.

He has two grownup children. His daughter is serving with the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq after graduating from Dartmouth College. His son has just started at an American university. He said that one of reasons that he quit Samsung was so that he could move to the U.S. to take care of his family.