Amazon ups its AI cred with eBay exec

AI_Artificial IntelligenceIt’s a funny old world. It used to be that journalists tapped people’s phones, spoke to people who knew them and hung around outside their houses to get information. Nowadays though, they trawl our LinkedIn and Facebook pages, especially if we work for big tech firms.

So the latest social media revelation? According to Dow Jones, Amazon has poached an artificial-intelligence (AI) expert from eBay.

Hassan Sawaf joined Amazon as AI director at its A9 labs in Palo Alto, California, his LinkedIn page says. And his actual work? To improve “the user experience for users of Amazon’s search capability across all products and businesses.”

That means helping us all find the stuff we want more quickly and efficiently, which is pretty important in a connected world. Saswaf’s previous experience as an AI exec at eBay, and his work to set up its cognitive computing group (ie helping items listed in foreign languages show up in each of our searches) make him very well qualified.

Businesses are racing to develop AI assistants who will both help our search processes and deal with our problems, among other functions. Apple’s Siri is probably the best known but there’s also Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa and Facebook’s errant chatbot Tay (who earlier this year was so good at learning what some users of the social network wanted to talk about that it quickly learned to be racist, sexist and everything-ist before being withdrawn and reprogrammed).

Until now, Amazon has used AI assistants largely to do specific things, Dow Jones said, like dimming bedroom lights, playing song lists and ordering goods. It’ll be interesting to know whether Sawaf’s arrival is the start of something new.

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