Ashwin Ram, the head of Amazon’s Alexa AI research and development team, has jumped ship to lead AI development at Google Cloud. Ram announced the move in a LinkedIn post that was first reported by Quartz.
“Google arguably has the best AI on the planet; my role will be to help make that AI even better and broadly available to everyone,” Ram said in the post. Google declined to comment on the move.
Ram said his new role is in Google’s cloud division as the technical director of AI. According to his LinkedIn profile, he will remain in the San Francisco area, but Google executives have previously said that the company’s new two-block campus in Seattle will house much of Google Cloud. That campus is scheduled to open in early 2019.
Ram is a high-profile get for Google’s AI efforts, an important move in the talent-starved technology sector. He has been studying artificial intelligence since the 1980s, well before the current machine learning and AI boom that’s transforming many parts of the technology industry.
Ram has co-founded and led three technology companies, including OpenStudy.com — acquired by Brainly in 2016 — and Enkia, which was acquired by Sentiment360 in 2010.
Ram served as the chair and CEO of OpenStudy.com and Enkia, respectively, and has held technical executive positions at companies including research and development house PARC.
At Amazon, Ram was tasked with improving Alexa’s conversational capabilities and founded the Alexa Prize competition. During his time at the company, Alexa went from the voice behind the original Echo speaker to an almost ubiquitous voice assistant that has come to be one of the top players in the emerging smart devices market — battling for the top spot with the Google Assistant, which he will likely help craft in his new role.
Amazon is known for requiring non-compete clauses in employment agreements and can be litigious when employees leave to work for competitors. Last year, it sued a former Amazon Web Services executive who took a job at work management software maker Smartsheet, although it dropped the suit within a month.