When Samsung announced last month that its new digital voice assistant would be named “Bixby,” readers of Philip Street’s comic strip Fisher will have had an instantaneous reaction: How is this possible? There is already a digital assistant named Bixby.
Street created him in 2002, in a strip reprinted on p. 105 of Nestlings Press’s 2013 Fisher compilation, When Tom Met Alison. Tom Fisher’s boss at the ad agency Waverly & Mogul introduced the robotic assistant to Tom, noting that “the Bixby 800 has a built-in clock and calendar. You can enter appointments by voice.” Bixby immediately imprinted upon Tom (“You are my mother!”) and said, “I am programmed to recognize names! I am programmed to learn.” Tom introduced Bixby to his girlfriend Alison as “a new kind of digital assistant.”
Housemate Eugene wasn’t impressed. “So you have a personal digital assistant. So big deal. Who doesn’t?” Tom held out an unopened bottle of beer: “Bixby!” Bixby rolled in on his two big wheels, took the bottle in his articulated metal hands, and removed the cap. Tom smiled triumphantly at Eugene. “Can your BlackBerry do that?”
Bixby became a recurring character in the comic strip, familiar not just to readers of The Globe and Mail in Toronto but to readers in other countries who followed Fisher on Street’s website. Might it be possible that one of those readers paid homage to Street’s Bixby by suggesting the name to Samsung?
At the very least, Samsung would be wise to present Philip Street with a complimentary Galaxy S8 smartphone, Bixby included, to acknowledge that Street got there first. But I’m sure they’re way ahead of me.