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Amazon hires AI expert away from eBay

The search engine giant has hired a new director of artificial intelligence at its A9 labs, deepening its bench as more and more retailers turn to AI to enhance the customer experience, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Hassan Sawaf has joined Amazon from eBay, where he worked on enabling context translations for foreign language searches to also return relevant listings in English. This lines up with the mission of A9 labs, which Amazon started in 2003 to develop more advanced search and advertising technology.

The use of AI in search could help Amazon more quickly determine what customers want. A number of retailers have been experimenting in this space. The North Face, Macy’s and Sur La Table have all applied artificial intelligence to enable natural language searches of their products online. They see it as a way to provide customers the same level of personalised service on their website as they would receive instore.

“We focused on this notion that there is a conversation being had instore and we should take that conversation and bring that online,” Neil Patil, president of software products group for Fluid Inc, which developed the platform with The North Face, said.

Amazon has also built AI into its virtual assistant, Alexa, which powers its voice-enabled wireless speaker Amazon Echo. Recently the company has been working to integrate Alexa into more devices, such as cars and home appliances.

Amazon’s poaching of Sawaf suggests the company is gearing up for a future in which artificial intelligence plays an increasingly important role. Virtual assistants and natural language search are just the beginning.

While Amazon did not comment on the hire, eBay confirmed the departure of Sawaf to The Wall Street Journal, and Sawaf’s LinkedIn profile showed his new position.

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