26 Oct 2017   |   News

Amazon to open new artificial intelligence research lab in Germany

“A lot of the AI and machine learning expertise in the world is coming out of Europe,” the company says

Amazon is to open an artificial intelligence research centre in the German university city of Tübingen, with plans to recruit 100 engineers over the next five years.

The research centre will be located next to the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems and will draw on the expertise of two of its experts, Bernhard Schoelkopf and Michael Black. Black is scientific advisor and co-founder of 3D body model start-up, Body Labs, recently acquired by Amazon.

The e-commerce giant joins BMW, Bosch, Daimler and Facebook in backing a German initiative, called Cyber Valley, launched last December and focused on areas including robotics, machine learning and computer vision.

Amazon said it would invest €1.25 million in Cyber Valley collaborative research effort and a further €420,000 for individual research awards at Max Planck. The site is Amazon’s fourth research centre in Germany, after Berlin, Dresden and Aachen.

“We go where the experts are,” Amazon’s director of machine learning Ralf Herbrich told Science|Business. “And a lot of the AI and machine learning expertise in the world is coming out of Europe.”

Amazon will use the local expertise to power more technically complicated services and deliver goods more quickly. The aim is to create artificial intelligence systems that can predict customer behaviour in response to automated decisions, said Herbrich. This can then be used to improve online search results.

Amazon has made several big research investments in Europe this year. Back in May, it announced plans for a new machine learning development hub in the UK and last month the said it is to set up a machine learning hub in Barcelona.

AI is emerging as a technology niche for Europe. “We’ve seen a real tenacity in schools in this area,” said Herbrich. Cities such as Berlin, Zurich and Paris are noted for AI research in a report by London-based venture capital fund Atomico last year.

Japanese internet giant Rakuten and Facebook both have AI labs in Paris, working on topics such as image recognition and natural language processing to build into their products.

American technology giants have acquired several UK AI companies. For example, Google acquired the UK’s DeepMind in 2014 and Microsoft purchased another UK firm, SwiftKey, in 2016.

Amazon’s voice-driven AI assistant Alexa was partly built by a team of engineers in Cambridge, acquired through its purchase of Evi Technologies.

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