Keynote Speaker

Yoelle Maarek

Vice President of Research, Alexa

Amazon, Israel

Thursday, 24 October 2018, 09:00AM-10:00AM - Room: 500

Alexa and her Shopping Journey

Voice-enabled intelligent assistants, such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana or Apple Siri, are on their way to revolutionize the way humans interact with machines. Their ubiquitous presence in our homes, offices, cars, etc. and their ease of use have the potential to fully democratize access to information and services, making them available to all, from young children to senior citizens. To this effect, Alexa is offering an open service available on tens of millions of devices that enables developers to build voice-enabled applications in a multitude of domains from home automation to entertainment. One domain that Alexa is pioneering in particular is the shopping domain. Customers can ask Alexa to order garlic from their kitchen while they are crushing their last clove, and they can as easily ask her about the best surveillance camera. We see then that in the shopping domain, Alexa addresses not only transactional needs but also informational needs, thus covering two of the Web search users’ needs defined by Broder. Yet the usual Web search techniques cannot be applied “as is” in voice-driven product discovery, since as demonstrated by Ingber et al., users’ behavior differs significantly between Web and voice. Consequently, for Alexa to naturally interact with users, and act as the ultimate virtual shopping assistant, new methods need to be invented and a number of open research challenges across various domains need to be addressed. These domains include automatic speech recognition, natural language understanding, search and question answering, and most importantly, user experience, which is critical in such a new and still evolving interaction paradigm. In this talk, we will share with the audience our vision of an intelligent shopping assistant escorting customers in their holistic shopping journey. We will also discuss the involved technical challenges that establish voice shopping as a new area of research in the AI and search communities at large.

Yoelle Maarek is a Vice President at Amazon, heading research for Alexa Shopping. Prior to this, she was Vice President of Research at Yahoo, guiding the research teams worldwide. Prior to Yahoo, she was the first engineering hire of Google in Israel and opened the Haifa engineering office. One of the most notable features her team launched is Google Suggest, the query auto-completion service. Before Google, she was with IBM Research, first in the US then in Israel, holding a number of technical and management positions, eventually becoming an IBM Distinguished Engineer. She has been serving in various senior roles at leading academic research conferences in the field of Web search and data mining, such as SIGIR, WWW and WSDM. She is a member of the Technion Board of Governors and was inducted as an ACM Fellow in 2013. Yoelle obtained a PhD in Computer Science from the Technion, Israel in 1989, and holds an engineering degree from the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées, and a DEA (graduate degree) in Computer Science from Paris VI university, both awarded in 1985.

Yolle Maarek