Who is Alex Smola?

Alex Smola is a prominent machine learning and artificial intelligence researcher. Smola has authored hundreds of articles on these topics and, according to Google Scholar, has been cited more than 160,000 times by his peers.

In business, Smola served as the Director of Machine Learning and Deep Learning at AWS and, more recently, co-founded the scalable AI model company Boson.ai. Before his work at AWS, Smola also held academic positions at Carnegie Mellon University, UC Berkeley, and Yahoo! Research, and was also a visiting scientist at Google Research.

Early career

Smola received his doctoral degree in computer science from the University of Technology, Berlin, in 1998. Out of university, he worked at the GMD Institute in software engineering and computer architecture.

Between 2004 and 2008, he worked as a professor at Australia’s Information and Communications Technology Research Centre (NICTA). There, he progressed to senior principal researcher and program leader of the facility’s Statistical Machine Learning Group.

Yahoo and Google

Smola joined Yahoo! as a Principle Research Scientist in September 2008 and remained there for just under four years. Some of his focus areas included nonparametric models, user profiling, statistical modeling, content analysis, and distributed optimization.

He then completed two separate stints as a visiting scientist at Google. The second stint, which concluded in January 2015, saw Smola working on distributed and large-scale data analysis. Over this time he was also a Professor at Carnegie Mellon University and worked on machine learning at scale.

Smola also served relatively briefly as CEO of Marianas Labs, a developer of algorithms for data processing, analysis, and machine learning services.

AWS

Smola joined AWS in the aforementioned role in August 2016 and one of his first tasks was to ensure AWS was making contact with developer communities. More specifically, he strived to involve them in the open-source deep learning framework known as MXNet (part of the Apache Incubator program).

Smola was also responsible for growing AWS’s machine learning (ML) internship and ensured that Amazon more broadly was an active recruiter in key ML areas such as computer vision, natural language processing (NLP) systems, and core algorithms. 

In his role, Smola recognized the value of academia and noted that the relationship between it and business was a two-way street: “Academic talent helps AWS excel. At the same time, we want to make sure we share ideas… AWS has lots of infrastructure, bigger machines and, of course, lots of data, allowing interns to do things with AWS that would normally be challenging within their university settings.

Boson.ai

Smola left AWS in February 2023 to start Boson.ai. Little is known about this venture so far, with an excerpt on his LinkedIn profile stating that “We’re building something big … stay tuned. Talk to me if you want to work on scalable foundation models.

In the past, Smola has spoken frequently about how to design efficient algorithms at scale and noted that the principles that govern MXNet, for example, can be applied to various deep-learning problems. This idea is something Smola also taught as an Adjunct Professor at the University of California in Berkeley. 

Key takeaways:

  • Alex Smola is a prominent machine learning and artificial intelligence researcher. Smola has authored hundreds of articles on these topics and, according to Google Scholar, has been cited more than 160,000 times by his peers.
  • Smola joined AWS in August 2016 and was responsible for growing its machine learning (ML) internship. He was also tasked with ensuring that Amazon was an active recruiter in key ML areas such as computer vision, natural language processing (NLP), systems, and core algorithms.
  • Smola left AWS in February 2023 to start Boson.ai. Little is known about this venture, but one can assume that it is related to his passion and expertise in developing efficient algorithms at scale.

Key Highlights

  • Background and Early Career:
    • Alex Smola is a prominent researcher in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
    • He holds a doctoral degree in computer science from the University of Technology, Berlin, earned in 1998.
    • Smola worked at the GMD Institute in software engineering and computer architecture after completing his degree.
    • He served as a professor at Australia’s Information and Communications Technology Research Centre (NICTA) from 2004 to 2008.
  • Yahoo and Google:
    • Smola joined Yahoo! as a Principle Research Scientist in 2008, focusing on nonparametric models, user profiling, statistical modeling, content analysis, and distributed optimization.
    • He had two stints as a visiting scientist at Google, with his second stint concluding in January 2015.
    • During this time, he also held positions as a Professor at Carnegie Mellon University and worked on machine learning at scale.
  • AWS and Academic Engagement:
    • Smola joined Amazon Web Services (AWS) in August 2016 as the Director of Machine Learning and Deep Learning.
    • He focused on engaging developer communities and involving them in the open-source deep learning framework MXNet.
    • Smola contributed to growing AWS’s machine learning (ML) internship and recruiting efforts in key ML areas.
  • Boson.ai Venture:
    • Smola left AWS in February 2023 to co-found Boson.ai.
    • The nature of Boson.ai’s venture is not fully disclosed, but it likely aligns with his expertise in developing efficient algorithms at scale.
    • His passion for designing algorithms at scale is evident in his previous work, such as MXNet, and his teachings as an Adjunct Professor at the University of California in Berkeley.

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