Machine learning prowess on display

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More than 80 Amazon scientists and engineers will attend this year's International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) in Stockholm, Sweden, with 11 papers co-authored by Amazonians being presented. "ICML is one of the leading outlets for machine learning research," says Neil Lawrence, director of machine learning for Amazon's Supply Chain Optimization Technologies program. "It's a great opportunity to find out what other researchers have been up to and share some of our own learnings." At ICML, members of Lawrence's team will present a paper titled "Structured Variationally Auto-encoded Optimization," which describes a machine-learning approach to optimization, or choosing the values for variables in some process that maximize a particular outcome. The first author on the paper is Xiaoyu Lu, a graduate student at the University of Oxford who worked on the project as an intern at Amazon last summer, then returned in January to do some follow-up work.


CES for Marketers: Alexa Wows, Virtual Reality Underwhelms

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Over the past few years the CES trade show has become a familiar post-holidays pilgrimage for many of the country's biggest marketers. They see the event as a way to get a sneak peek at the latest tech gadgets and technologies that can help them engage with their customers. This year marketing executives from companies such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Campbell Soup and PepsiCo Inc. made their way to Las Vegas for the gathering. The convention was jam-packed with everything from self-driving cars to robots that play chess to Procter & Gamble's air-freshener spray that can connect with Alphabet Inc.'s Nest home to automatically release pleasant scents in the home. But there was one category that seemed to especially win over marketers: virtual assistants.


McDonald's Claims First 'Voice Apply' Process

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"Alexa, help me find a job at McDonald's." That's how interested job seekers can start an application with the global fast-food company, McDonald's recently announced. Claiming it to be the world's first voice-initiated job application process, the company has launched McDonald's Apply Thru, which works on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The app is currently available in the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom and is expected to roll out to other countries in the coming months. Once Alexa or Google Assistant responds, users are asked to provide basic information, such as their name, contact information, job area of interest and location. Potential applicants then receive a text message with a link to the McDonald's careers site to continue their application process.


Amazon is poorly vetting Alexa's user-submitted answers

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Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and Cortana can answer all sorts of questions that pop into users' heads, and they're improving every day. But what happens when a company like Amazon decides to crowdsource answers to fill gaps in its platform's knowledge? The result can range from amusing and perplexing to concerning. Alexa Answers allows any Amazon customer to submit responses to unanswered questions. When the web service launched in general availability a few weeks ago, Amazon gave assurances that submissions would be policed through a combination of automatic and manual review.


The Arrival of Artificially Intelligent Beer

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The term "machine learning" covers a grab bag of algorithms, techniques, and technology that are by now pretty much everywhere in modern life. However, machine intelligence has recently started to be used not just for identifying problems but to build better products. Amongst the first is the world's only beers brewed with the help of machine intelligence, which went on sale a few weeks ago. The machine learning algorithms uses a combination of reinforcement learning and bayesian optimisation to assist the brewer in deciding how to change the recipe of the beer, with the algorithms learning from experience and customer feedback. Perhaps the most obvious intrusion of machine learning into the physical world is the voice recognition that drives Apple's Siri, or Amazon's Alexa.