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Amazon, the online retail behemoth, has long been quiet about its plans for conversational artificial intelligence, even as its rivals Google and Microsoft make strides in developing and deploying chatbots that can interact with users and answer their queries.
But a new pair of job postings may have just offered a glimpse into Amazon’s ambitions. The job postings, which were first discovered and reported by Bloomberg, described a new search functionality for Amazon’s web store that would feature a chat interface powered by a technology similar to ChatGPT, one of the world’s leading natural language AI systems.
The job postings suggest that Amazon is looking for engineers who could help create “an interactive conversational experience” that would enable customers to ask product questions, compare products, receive personalized suggestions and more.
The postings also compare the project to a “once in a generation transformation for Search,” akin to how the Mosaic browser revolutionized the internet in the 1990s.
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“We are reimagining Amazon Search with an interactive conversational experience that helps you find answers to product questions, perform product comparisons, receive personalized product suggestions, and so much more, to easily find the perfect product for your needs. We’re looking for the best and brightest across Amazon to help us realize and deliver this vision to our customers right away. This will be a once in a generation transformation for Search, just like the Mosaic browser made the Internet easier to engage with three decades ago. If you missed the 90s-WWW, Mosaic, and the founding of Amazon and Google — you don’t want to miss this opportunity.”
A new Amazon shopping experience
The project, if realized, would mark a significant departure from Amazon’s current search interface, which relies on keywords and filters to help customers find what they are looking for. It would also put Amazon in more direct competition with other tech giants that have invested heavily in conversational AI, such as Google, Meta and Microsoft.
When asked for comment, an Amazon spokesperson told VentureBeat, “We are significantly investing in generative AI across all of our businesses.” The company did not provide additional detail on its job postings or its conversational AI strategy.
Amazon, however, has shown signs of interest in recent months. In October, it announced Bedrock, a cloud-based platform that allows developers to build and scale chatbots and other applications using large language models. Amazon also unveiled two new language models of its own, called Titan, which it said were trained on billions of words from books, news articles and other sources. The announcements show that the company is making an effort to keep pace with other tech conglomerates in the field.
Shopping with conversational AI
Amazon was once considered a pioneer in the field of conversational AI when it released one of the first mainstream AI assistants, Alexa, which was launched in 2014 and quickly became a popular feature in millions of homes and devices. Although Amazon Alexa never quite captured the success that text-based solutions like ChatGPT have, the company reported in January 2019 it had sold more than 100 million Alexa devices.
Although the hype around Alexa devices has diminished, many similar capabilities are now being used in text-based chats. Microsoft’s Bing Chat, for example, is a conversational AI tool that lets users shop for products or services via text-based conversation. Bing Chat can show options, compare prices and even generate advertisements based on user queries. Google, Meta and others have also been experimenting with conversational AI in various domains.
Amazon’s advantage, however, may lie in its vast collection of user data and its expertise in ecommerce. Amazon has published several research papers on conversational search, including one on ConvSearch, a dataset of over 10,000 dialogues collected from real users on various topics and domains. The paper, presented at the SIGIR 2021 conference, shows how ConvSearch can be used to analyze and model user behaviors and preferences in conversational search scenarios.
Amazon’s CEO Andy Jassy also hinted at the potential of conversational search in the company’s latest earnings call. He said that large language models and generative AI capabilities have improved significantly in the past year, opening up new possibilities for transforming customer experiences. “They’ve been around for a while, but frankly, the models were not that compelling before about six, nine months ago,” he said. “And they have gotten so much bigger and so much better, much more quickly, that it really presents a remarkable opportunity to transform virtually every customer experience that exists and many that don’t exist that weren’t really that easily made possible before.”
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