To celebrate International Women's Day, we spoke to women working across multiple functions in Alexa – in leadership, science, engineering, product, business development and marketing – about their work, and the innovations they find exciting. Here's what they had to say.
I am the single-threaded owner of the Alexa Health & Wellness Care Connections and Wellness initiatives. My team works with third parties to deliver products, services, and tools that allow Alexa customers to self-manage their wellness goals. Customers can improve their mental and emotional health through Alexa’s meditation and sleep skills, and likewise, they can also activate skills that provide insights to support their nutritional and fitness needs. My team also works on initiatives that allow customers to connect directly with clinical care from the safety, comfort, and convenience of their homes. We aim to support the customer wherever they are in their health & wellness journey, always encouraging customers to leverage the power of their Alexa assistant who knows them, understands their needs, and is always ready to help.
In my past life as a primary care physician, I used to have patient panels of ten thousand patients, most of whom had at least one chronic condition that required higher level of clinical care and vigilance. I know first-hand that the art of clinical medical medicine can't be as simple as administering a simple health Q&A. It’s a complex relationship between the patient and physician that involves visual cues, physical exam findings, time-boxed labs and radiology tests that often have a precise order of operations, and unquestioned trust. It never felt like I had enough time or resources to take care of my patients the way I wanted, especially when they left my office and went home. So, I’m incredibly excited that Alexa, which is the operating at the marriage of hardware, software, and AI, and is already found in millions of customers homes can get to know the patient, start to recognize those “cues," and inform the physician and care team that the patient is in need of intervention. With telehealth, Alexa is also able to connect the customer directly to clinical care, and given Amazon’s historical excellence at delivering solutions at scale, our solutions are widely available to everyone. These are not solutions only intended for the wealthy or tech savvy. So, though I no longer see patients in clinical medicine, I work on solutions that can help improve the lives of millions of people, young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural. That is incredibly rewarding and exciting for me as a physician.
I work on the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) team - a customer obsessed, innovative, highly technical and scrappy team that builds services powering and scaling the Alexa experiences you know and love! I head the ASK Runtime product team. Our mission is to make it easier for developers to innovate on behalf of our customers and build the next generation of Alexa skills and experiences.
Alexa has become integrated into the fabric of our lives with numerous first party & third party devices and experiences. I am excited by the sheer range of Alexa products - from wall-plugins to autos, and multi-modal devices in the kitchen to 75’’ TVs, all with rich skills that make them come to life. We have come a long way in embedding Alexa experiences into most devices, enabling serendipitous discovery, and making Alexa more conversational. I look forward to a future of Alexa experiences enabled by ambient intelligence that is available to customers when they need it, and fades into the background when not.
My team works on creating seamless context-aware interactions with Alexa customers. We leverage advanced AI to increase the trust of our customers in Alexa as the most reliable, and contextually intelligent personal assistant.
I am fascinated by all innovations happening behind the scenes to advance Alexa in serving our customers just as well as a human personal assistant would. I have been fortunate to be able to contribute to some of these features such as “whisper mode” and “multilingual mode”, where Alexa responds in kind to customer queries by whispering back, or dynamically switching between languages in response. Nowadays, I am energized by driving innovations to Alexa’s contextual awareness and reasoning abilities to seamlessly assist customers.
I lead the customer experience team for Alexa Everywhere, where it’s our mission to imagine and build delightful Alexa experiences customers expect by harnessing the capabilities of third-party partners. From product and design to onboarding, marketing, and ongoing engagement, we obsess about how customers interact with Alexa on third party products. We work on the products and devices that make lives fun and productive like TVs, PCs, smart watches, speakers, and so much more.
I am excited by any innovation that makes getting started with Alexa easier. Reducing obstacles to getting customers to what they really care about is exciting to me. The setup & discovery team in customer experience recently launched a service that allows us to discover if a customer has an unregistered third-party product with Alexa Built-in in their home, and then enable them to quickly complete activation in the Alexa mobile app. It’s an unexpected delight for customers to learn that Alexa is embedded in their TVs, for instance, and that they can begin to use Alexa easily.
I lead the Voice Interoperability Initiative (VII), and work with an incredible team to spearhead new simultaneous multi-agent technologies. We have launched a design guide, put code into Github via our MAX Toolkit, written white papers, hosted member sessions at Alexa Live, and more to support the industry in accelerating knowledge and expertise in multi-agent implementations for our customers. We believe customers should have a choice on the agent they use for the task at hand on any device. We now have over 90 members supporting this initiative and many of them have showcased demos across multiple industries from entertainment to publishing and auto..
I am also the deal lead for the Disney partnership announced at the end of September. “Hey Disney” is a first as it represents the very first time we are implementing a multi-agent experience via Alexa Custom Assistant (ACA) on Echo friendly devices.
More recently, I began working with the team that is sending Alexa to space. I am a huge fan of innovations in space exploration, and cannot wait to work with our team to help define, and build out opportunities for Alexa in space!
I am interested in furthering the state-of-the-art in simultaneous agents on a device: it's an area I have been working on for a number of years. I am also excited at how Amazon is expanding low earth orbit satellite capabilities, and changing the game on connectivity with Project Kuiper. When it comes to space, the innovations being developed to make space habitable for humans are incredibly interesting. The Just Walk Out technology revolutionizing the retail experience is fascinating. Finally, I closely follow the evolution of cryptocurrency, and their potential for fundamentally making us re-think currency transactions.
I lead the science and research organization for Alexa Shopping with teams in Israel, UK and US. Our goal is to allow Alexa to understand the needs of all shoppers regardless of language, background abilities or economic means, and create delightful, time-saving for millions of customers worldwide in their shopping journeys, from discovery to inspiration. This encompasses taking on a set of open-research AI challenges that my teams address via a “customer-obsessed science” approach, where we work backwards from customers needs to tackle problems that cannot be solved by existing methods. We invent and experiment with new methods, approaches, models and algorithms to address these needs. We then implement and deploy associated solutions to customers in partnership with our engineering, design and product counterparts. Finally we validate the novelty of our methods by publishing at peer-reviewed venues, and thus help advance the state-of-the-art in AI for the benefit of all.
It is hard to pick my favorite innovation among those that our scientists drove, so I will go for two recent ones that I find particularly inspiring for the research community.
One is about giving Alexa a sense of humor. We have discovered that our customers like to be playful with Alexa, issuing requests that they don’t really expect her to satisfy (e.g. Alexa buy me a Lamborghini, or Alexa can you turn off the moon?). This relates to computational humor identified by Turing in his seminal paper on machine intelligence as one of the hardest challenges. It’s an awesome opportunity to investigate a Turing challenge, and, if we do it right, be able to truly delight customers.
Another recent initiative is actually geared towards the academic research community, and students in particular. We offer them the opportunity to advance the state-of-the art in conversational AI via the Alexa Prize TaskBot challenge. Selected academic teams of students are funded to build a “ askBot", namely an agent that assists customers in completing tasks requiring multiple steps and decisions. The qualifying bots are deployed to Alexa users who can invoke one of them by saying “Alexa, assist me” or “Alexa, let’s work” and request help on their cooking or home improvement tasks. You should all give it a shot: it’s fun and will help students advance their research!
I have the incredibly fun job of leading teams that are building Alexa experiences in areas like entertainment, home productivity, kitchen, communications & social, health & wellness as well as Alexa for Enterprise. My organization includes Alexa Voice Services (which works with the devices makers that integrate with Alexa), teams that enable our skills developers to build on Alexa, and the Alexa International team (which bring these devices and services to people all across the globe). My role has a dual focus: vertically across areas like music, health, and communication, as well as horizontally across worldwide geographies and systems. My mission is to deliver ongoing innovation in customer value and to drive financial performance, not only for Amazon Alexa but for its partners across the globe. As COO, I also have opportunities to continuously strive for operational excellence by working more effectively across the broader Alexa and Amazon organization. My team frequently hears me say that we are “Better Together” and I truly believe this. By maintaining a high bar for operational excellence we can promote a golden standard for effective, cross-Alexa and company collaboration to delight our customers and partners as well as provide opportunities to inspect our mechanisms, mitigate risks, and learn from peers. Lastly, I am working on embodying Amazon’s newest Leadership Principle, Becoming Earth’s Best Employer. In order to do so, I am committed to doubling down on our efforts to listen, learn, and change, being laser focused on our goals and priorities, raising the bar for our employees and customers, bringing more empathy to work, and simply having more fun!”
I am just so excited by the work going on in our artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language understanding(NLU) teams because my team gets to apply the science they invent into building experiences that customers love. Lately I have been fascinated by our progress around Alexa Conversations and how we make engaging with Alexa more natural. Concepts like long-term memory and conversational question and answering capabilities are just incredible. We say Alexa was designed to be your trusted companion, and to me that really comes to life though natural turn taking and engaging conversations with Alexa.
Our mission is to empower partners and developers to be successful with Alexa, whether that is building new skills, or incorporating Alexa into their own connected devices. Right now, our focus is on helping these partners understand the power and potential of ambient computing, and how it can help them deliver delightful customer experiences. We’re working every day to produce enablement content – resources that make it easier and faster to build with Alexa.
“Alexa, take me to the moon!” Our January announcement that Alexa will be part of the Callisto payload on Artemis I– the first in a series of NASA missions intended to land the first woman and person of color on the moon – this tops the list. We’re working hard to be ready for launch and mission now. It’s truly ground-breaking, first-of-its-kind work, which is always fun and exciting. Then there is the Alexa Innovators series – this is a new series we’re launching to showcase the partners and builders who are doing great things with Alexa. I’m a huge fan and can’t wait for the world to see it..
My team is working on science solutions that enable Alexa to be more natural, conversational and intelligent, and enable customers to complete complex tasks. Along with our science and engineering teams in the Alexa Conversational Understanding organization, we develop models and techniques that power the Alexa Conversations production system, a data-driven, state-of-the-art dialog management system for Alexa. Examples of complex conversational experiences that we support include planning a night out with dinner and a movie, or narrowing down which dinner recipe to cook for the evening. My research experience and my team’s research work encompass the areas of natural language processing, conversational dialog systems, deep learning, unsupervised and semi-supervised learning, as well as emerging areas like commonsense reasoning, and knowledge grounding for dialog systems.
I am excited about recent advances in the deep learning community that enable machines to perform higher level reasoning tasks, including displaying an understanding of commonsense, logic, temporal and spatial concepts. Such tasks, like understanding that a red-eye flight happens overnight, and that a taxi ride needs to arrive to the airport prior to the flight start time, are generally intuitive for humans, but have been especially challenging for machines to perform accurately and generalize across tasks. Recent techniques have shown promise in this area by combing deep learning models trained on very large datasets, along with symbolic artificial intelligence techniques and leveraging knowledge base information.
Incorporating processing and reasoning of multimodal information, including from cameras and other sensors, is another exciting area of innovation in addition to advancements in natural language processing. Research in this area can enable more natural and efficient conversational systems that display both common sense and logic, and can lead to the development of human-like conversational companions for education, healthcare and entertainment applications.
I am excited by the many ways the lines are blurring for Alexa in their homes and in their cars. Users are now able to seamlessly carry Alexa experiences along with them as they navigate the world. They can play music, get directions, place calls, listen to audiobooks, control their smart homes. Alexa also helps keep them safe, because they are able to keep their hands on the wheel, and eyes on the road.
I work on a couple of areas within Alexa. I am the category lead for music & audio related skills. I am also working on bringing exciting features that foster interactivity between creators such as musicians, radio DJs, podcasters and their listeners.
Artificial Intelligence (as broad as that sounds) used in the right way is exciting to me. It has revolutionized vaccine development, transformed the way we think about and use voice assistants, and powered interesting use cases such as robo-investing, just to name a few.
I lead engagement efforts with our developer community, enabling them with the right tools and resources to build engaging skills for Alexa. It is truly inspiring to witness our developers unlock innovative voice-based experiences with Alexa, enriching the lives of millions of customers around the world.
It is amazing how Alexa has made our lives more convenient through a plethora of engaging voice-enabled experiences . One of my favorites is the ease with which I can get many things done in one go using Routines. I set an action and a list of tasks that Alexa can execute. For example, every morning at 7 a.m., Alexa can automatically greet me, give me a weather update and play the top news of the day.