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Amazon poaches AI guru from Xerox PARC to work on Alexa virtual assistant

TechCrunch TechCrunch 5/05/2016 Steve O'Hear

Amazon has hired Xerox PARC employee and AI researcher Ashwin Ram to head up R&D for Alexa, the e-commerce behemoth’s AI-driven virtual assistant. Ram first tweeted about his appointment on Tuesday, and a spokesperson for Amazon has now confirmed the hire but declined to offer any further comment.

The veteran computer science researcher worked at PARC for the last five years, most recently holding the role of Area Manager & Chief Innovation Officer, Interactive Intelligence & Augmented Social Cognition, according to LinkedIn, where he worked on apps and technology related to health and well-being.

Ram is also an adjunct professor for the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, where he previously ran the Cognitive Computing Lab for 8 years up until 2011. It was in that role that he led research in AI and cognitive science.

According to Wikipedia, his projects focused on AI for computer games and virtual worlds, consumer health and wellness, and educational technologies. Specifically, this included “knowledge-based machine learning, case-based reasoning, cognitive modelling, and natural language processing”.

And even though Ram’s role at Amazon appears to be R&D focused, heading up the team developing the AI side of Alexa, the tech giant’s “conversational agent” that powers Amazon Echo and other devices, he has entrepreneurial form too, having founded three companies.

They are Enkia Corporation (acquired by Sentiment360 in 2011), Inquus Corporation, which operates online social learning network OpenStudy, and medical information company Cobot Health Corporation.

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