Amazon announced at its AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas it is releasing the Amazon AI platform, offering developers a series of deep learning artificial intelligence technology tools, including the conversational training technology that is core to the e-commerce giant’s wildly successful Alexa virtual assistant platform.
Developers using the new Amazon Lex console will be able to start training their own chatbots and other programs to learn conversational skills under the same process Amazon used to train Alexa. Lex leverages Amazon Web Services’ Lambda application creation technology, and enables deep learning for chatbots to run on Facebook’s Messenger, Slack and Twilio messaging platforms, as well as in native Amazon environments.
Other Amazon AI tools include Rekognition, an image detection, identification and facial recognition technology, and Polly, a text-to-speech conversion tool that uses 47 different male and female voices and supports 27 languages.
This is a game-changing announcement with far-reaching implications for retailers and companies in many other industries. Amazon is looking to position itself as the key enabler of a global AI movement that is now in its infancy, but likely will experience a major growth spurt in the years to come.
“Abilities like natural language processing, which power chatbots like Alexa, are markers of an industry-wide race to better serve customers through AI," Scott Horn, chief marketing officer of AI-powered customer engagement solutions provider 7, said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive. "When used in a retail context, AI automates assistance on the front lines of customer service, saving human agents for higher stake scenarios, such as for retention and up-selling purposes."
Horn said 7's own study results have shown that many customers actually prefer to interact with a chatbot, rather than interacting with customer service by phone or e-mail. The technology has already come that far.
Amazon has hinted to it would create a platform to help developers use some of the AI technology it has so aggressively developed for its own use in recent years, but there was little detail until now about what it would make available. This week's announcement follows Amazon’s early November unveiling of its Alexa skills marketplace, which also included some developer tools, and in retrospect signaled Amazon’s increase efforts to monetize its Alexa technology in new ways, and greatly expand its reach.
The Lex console on its own could prove to be a major force in the retail sector, where so many retailers and their partners already are building their own chatbots for platforms like Messenger, and their own variations on the virtual assistant model.
The other elements of the platform also have significant potential for retail, as Rekognition involves many of the capabilities significant to the emerging segments of visual and image search, a field of endeavor that will make it much easier for shoppers to find specific desired products. Meanwhile, Polly and technologies of its ilk are central to the evolution of conversational commerce, and the ability for retailers to communicate with customers in any mode that suits them at a given time.
Amazon could continue to hoard each of these AI technologies for its own ongoing innovations, but it clearly sees some benefit in helping to create a much bigger and faster-evolving ecosystem. Its own products and business strategies obviously could benefit from the new applications and solutions dreamed up by developers using these tools, but Amazon also might be in it for the glory to come from enabling a revolution.
And now is the time for companies in the retail sector and serving it to start investing in AI if they haven't already, according to Kerry Liu, CEO of Rubikloud, a machine intelligence platform for enterprise retailers. "There should be a sense of urgency across retailers to incorporate machine learning and AI into their platforms in order to meet consumer demands for a tailored experience," Liu said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive. "Clearly, Amazon has made this strategic investment given industry trends and expectations; and if retailers don’t jump on this technology now, they risk falling behind.”
Amazon just made it easier for a entire industries to jump on the AI bandwagon, so what's stopping you?