Amazon is getting serious about machine learning.
The Seattle tech titan hired eBay’s head of artificial intelligence, Hassan Sawaf, to lead its own A.I. operation in Palo Alto, Calif.
Sawaf is now Director of Artificial Intelligence at Amazon-owned A9 Labs, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Poaching Sawaf from rival eBay is the latest in a series of moves this week that indicate Amazon is doubling down on A.I. The company just acquired a machine learning team in Cambridge, UK and used some of the $100 million Amazon Alexa fund to invest 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 last month, Amazon was interested in buying the machine learning platform at one point, sources tell GeekWire. Apple is using the Turi acquisition to go much deeper into machine learning, perhaps setting up an epic battle between the two tech titans.
Alexa, the personality that powers Echo devices, is at the heart of Amazon’s new enthusiasm for A.I. (though the company uses machine learning in many aspects of its businesses). Alexa is key to Amazon’s long-term strategy to provide the voice-activated interface for its customers’ connected appliances and devices.