Amazon Innovations

Amazon’s Poaches eBay Exec To Push Machine-Learning Play

There’s a new sheriff in town in Amazon‘s AI operations: Hassan Sawaf, who heretofore was doing the same job at eBay.

Sawaf will now head Amazon’s A9 labs, and his hire away from one of Amazon’s chief rivals comes as the cap to a week’s worth of activity that strongly indicates that Amazon is getting very serious very fast about artificial intelligence.

Also on the recent punchline has been the acquisition of a U.K.-based AI firm and an investment in natural language processing startup DefinedCrowd. In the last few years, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has put $2 million toward funding machine-learning professorships. Hired into those jobs were Turi CEO Carlos Guestrin and his wife, Emily Fox, at the University of Washington. 

Turi was built out of an open-source project first developed by Guestrin at UW. Apple ended up actually winning the acquisition battle for Turi last month. Amazon bid, but at $200 million, Apple apparently bid more.

Driving Amazon’s recent interest in AI is Alexa, the personality behind Amazon’s Echo devices that Amazon is working to position to be the artificial intelligence that consumers use to connect their devices — and their homes — under the umbrella of a single operating system.

Sawaf’s tenure at eBay kicked off in 2013. He was the architect behind the company’s cognitive computing group and oversaw efforts to enable context translations for shoppers searching in foreign languages to allow English language listing to mix into results.

According to the biography on eBay’s website, as of last week, Sawaf’s expertise is in human language technology and pattern recognition. Sawaf is additionally a patent holder in hybrid machine translation. Said system uses machines to translate from one language to another.


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