Neil Lawrence, a professor of machine learning and computational biology at the University of Sheffield, announced to his Facebook followers that he and his team of students will be joining the Seattle tech titan.
(GeekWire reached out to Lawrence and will update this post if he provides comment).
Ralf Herbrich, Amazon’s Director of Machine Learning Science, said that Lawrence’s team will partner with his operation in Berlin, in a comment on the Facebook thread. Herbrich’s team focuses on “Forecasting, Content Linkage, Scalable Machine Learning Services and Vision-Assisted Technologies,” which may offer a glimpse into the kind of work that the new UK team will be doing.
Both Herbrich and Lawrence previously worked for the Seattle-area’s other tech titan, Microsoft. Herbrich was Director of Microsoft’s Future Social Experiences lab in the UK, while Lawrence worked as a Machine Learning Researcher at Microsoft Research, Cambridge.
The team will most likely be working on Alexa, the A.I. personality that powers Amazon’s smart speaker Echo. Amazon’s most recent job listings in Cambridge all mention one or both of those projects and say the Cambridge operation is “rapidly expanding.”
Alexa has made machine learning a high priority for Amazon and the company has been eyeing startups and researchers in the field for some time.
Amazon just invested some of its $100 million Alexa Fund in natural language processing startup DefinedCrowd. In 2012, Jeff Bezos provided $2 million to fund machine learning professorships for Turi CEO Carlos Guestrin and his wife, Emily Fox at the University of Washington. An open source project that Guestrin developed at UW later became Turi.
Though Apple won the $200 million Turi acquisition earlier this month, Amazon was interested in buying the machine learning platform at one point, sources tell GeekWire.
The company also offers a service for to help developers leverage A.I., called “Amazon Machine Learning,” offered through Amazon Web Services. The e-commerce giant uses machine learning in its retail operations, Kindle platform, and other aspects of its business.