What is the Inventor of Alexa Doing Now?
The sun has not yet risen on a new day, yet Jeff Adams already finds himself getting ready for work. 6 AM wake up calls might have worked when Jeff was building Alexa for Amazon, but now, 5 AM is the new 6 AM. As soon as he wakes up, Adams is all business. "I never stop thinking about what I am passionate about, which is our speech technology," Adams says.
Jeff Adams is a legend in the Natural Language Processing field. More than inventing Alexa at Amazon, Jeff was being pulled into every direction of Amazon, and would "travel for weeks at a time."
“When I was at Amazon leading the speech group, someone else in a different division of the company would come ask me to help them. Every division you could imagine, aerial drones, robots in the warehouse, all interesting products, but I had to work on Alexa!”
Jeff teaching at Afeka College of Engineering
Though Jeff Adams is considered the inventor of Alexa, he claims that he gets "nervous when people call [him] the inventor, because Alexa was invented by a lot of people." Though Adams loved Amazon and felt like he was part of a family, the genesis for his new company, Cobalt Speech and Language, came from his being pulled in many directions at Amazon. Adams says “People at Amazon were stuck; they couldn't get help in building something, so I thought to myself, 'I should start a company that offers expert advice in speech and NLP.
Cobalt Speech and Language has become a worldwide success in the field of Natural Language Processing, focusing on the simple mission of helping every corporation around the world integrate this technology into their business. Additionally, Adams is a co-founder of another Natural Language Processing firm, Canary Speech. Adams is excited about Canary, stating “it is interesting because we are using speech technology to get early diagnosis of conditions like Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s.”
Jeff & the Cobalt team in Park City, Utah
Adams believes that Natural Language Processing will have some interesting developments and advancements within the next decade. When asked how quickly the field will progress, Adams responded with "Quick. I predict that there will be some interesting advances in the next ten years, but it is hard to say where they will come from. It is hard to deny that speech technology, for example, has made great strides over the past ten years, but a lot of that progress would have been hard to predict. Ten years ago, there was no Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant. Technologies such as smartphones, streaming music services, and home automation have contributed a lot to how speech technology has developed, for example. In a way, the big advances in speech technology were facilitated and motivated by advances in other areas that originally seemed completely unrelated. I can imagine that things will progress in a similar way over the next ten years, with advances being facilitated and motivated by other technologies, but the question of whether or not that progress will be "quick" is hard to answer. The advances over the past ten years have not seemed quick, and yet, look how far we have come.”
Disney fanatics, Jeff & his wife Tammy love visiting Orlando
However, Natural Language Processing is not the only technology Adams is passionate about. Unlike Nouriel Roubini, Adams is a big believer in Blockchain. “It will sound trite, but I really do get excited about all good, new technology, from Blockchain to autonomous vehicles to space mining. I don't profess to know a lot about most of these areas, but I think we live in a very exciting time where we are making a lot of interesting advances in many different fields,” he offers.
I end the interview with the question: what is the biggest hurdle Adams faces? “An important part of our business is to forge partnerships with people in other fields. The tricky part of finding that 'killer speech app' in a particular domain is that it requires insight from both that specialized domain, as well as in speech technology. I have insights into speech, but I don't have the same kinds of insights in other fields like medical, finance, industry, retail, education, agriculture, or whatever. The challenge is to find visionaries in those spaces who are willing to work together with us to figure out how best to apply speech technology in their domains.”
Written by Alexander Fleiss & Edited by Rachel Weissman