AI means your children will talk to your lightbulbs, Amazon says

Machine learning might be a novelty for you, but the next generation will grow up with it.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
Expertise Processors, semiconductors, web browsers, quantum computing, supercomputers, AI, 3D printing, drones, computer science, physics, programming, materials science, USB, UWB, Android, digital photography, science. Credentials
  • Shankland covered the tech industry for more than 25 years and was a science writer for five years before that. He has deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and more.
Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Stephen Shankland
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Swami Sivasubramanian, VP of Amazon's machine learning efforts

Swami Sivasubramanian, VP of Amazon's machine learning efforts, speaks at a 2017 conference.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

To imagine what artificial intelligence might look like in your house tomorrow, look at what it's already done today to a top AI exec, Amazon's Swami Sivasubramanian.

The vice president of Amazon's machine learning efforts has a 3-year-old daughter. With Amazon's Echo smart speakers, powered by Amazon's Alexa voice control technology, she turns on the lights and listens to "The Wheels on the Bus" being sung, he said Wednesday at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit.

"Now she doesn't even look for switches," Sivasubramanian said. "When we go to a hotel, she actually says, 'Mommy, Alexa isn't listening to me.'"

AI technology is a big part of the tech world, shaping Google's search results, screening out your email spam and recognizing your face to unlock your iPhone. Expect it to continue to bleed into just about everything you do that touches something electronic.

One example: buying beer. Biometric authentication technology company Clear lets people use their fingerprints to ensure they're old enough to buy alcohol at Seattle Seahawks games, and the company uses AI as part of the authentication process, Chief Executive Caryn Seidman-Becker said at the conference.

"You are your ID," Seidman-Becker said. "When you enroll in Clear, you are your driver's license."

Amazon is a major player in AI, using it to guide order fulfillment robots in its warehouses, recommend products you might want to buy, identify actors when you pause Amazon-streamed video, and get Alexa to understand what you just commanded.

But Amazon realized it was lagging even bigger AI powers like Google and Facebook.

CEO Jeff Bezos and other Amazon leaders "realized that AI is going to disrupt the IT industry," Sivasubramanian said. "We started training all of our developers in machine learning as part of their tool set."

Now thousands of Amazon engineers work on AI technology. And the company's Amazon Web Services, the industry's dominant cloud-computing foundation, is used by everyone from Toyota to NASA for AI tasks.

"We worry AI is this robot that can spell doom," Sivasubramanian said. "But it can enable us to do amazing things."

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