“The way I think about Alexa is the way AI is revolutionizing daily convenience,” said Rohit Prasad (M.S. EE ’99), vice president and head scientist at Amazon Alexa, as he opened the 2018 Darsh T. Wasan Lecture at Illinois Tech’s Mies Campus on November 12. “That’s the mission we are on.”
Over the next hour, Prasad delivered a speech that acknowledged Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk and his other sci-fi inspirations along with a look into the world of Alexa, an artificial intelligence system that is constructed on and constantly learning from its everyday users. Among the topics Prasad discussed were the evolution of conversational AI, an overview of the process of transfer learning and pervasive deep learning, and some of Alexa’s new features, such as whisper mode. He concluded the lecture with questions from the standing-room only audience that ranged from Alexa’s use in the classroom to privacy concerns.
After graduating from Illinois Tech, Prasad, a native of Ranchi (Jharkhand), India, spent the next 14 years at Raytheon BBN Technologies honing his skills in speech-to-speech translation, speech recognition, natural language understanding, and machine learning. He joined Amazon in 2013 as director of machine learning and was promoted to vice president and head scientist of Amazon Alexa in 2016. He was ranked #9 out of 100 in Fast Company’s “The Most Creative People in Business 2017” and along with Alexa colleague Toni Reid was #15 in the “Recode 100” listing for 2017.