Amazon beefs up AI development, hiring execs from startup Adept and licensing its technology

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The front desk of the Amazon office is pictured in New York, May 1, 2019.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Amazon is ramping up its development of artificial intelligence technology, hiring top talent from AI agent startup Adept and licensing the company’s technology.

Rohit Prasad, a senior vice president and head scientist who oversees Amazon’s artificial general intelligence unit, wrote in a memo to employees on Friday that the company hired Adept co-founder and CEO David Luan and “a few other deeply talented team members to our AGI team.”

Luan will oversee Amazon’s “AGI Autonomy” division, and report to Prasad, he wrote in the memo, which CNBC obtained. Amazon confirmed the contents of the memo. Geekwire was first to report on it.

Amazon faces fierce competition in AI, as rivals Microsoft and Google rapidly add new features into their core products while also giving businesses more ways to access large language models in their public cloud offerings. Amazon’s cloud unit has launched a range of AI services, including its own models, which are generally viewed as lagging behind the top competitors.

Amazon has also pumped billions of dollars into OpenAI competitor Anthropic, and it’s planning to overhaul its Alexa voice assistant with a new paid version that has generative AI capabilities. Prasad, who previously served as a head scientist for Alexa, was tapped in August to steer Amazon’s development of AGI, or software that’s significantly more advanced than current AI and starts to approach human-level capabilities.

Last month, Amazon announced Adam Selipsky, the head of Amazon Web Services, would be stepping down and succeeded by Matt Garman, the head of sales at marketing at AWS.

Talent wars are heating up across the industry.

Microsoft in March hired Mustafa Suleyman, a cofounder of Google’s DeepMind who went on to lead startup Inflection AI. Microsoft also brought on several of Inflection’s top executives and is licensing some of its technology. The arrangement caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which is probing whether Microsoft structured the deal to avoid antitrust review, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Adept was founded in 2022 by a group of former OpenAI and Google engineers. The company quickly attracted the backing of Microsoft and Nvidia and was valued at more than $1 billion in early 2023.

Adept is a player in the burgeoning space of AI agents, which refers to AI tools that are equipped to complete complex tasks without human assistance. The startup was reportedly developing an agent that can perform actions on a computer on the user’s behalf, like navigating webpages and logging data.

As part of Friday’s agreement, Amazon will license Adept’s technology, multimodal models and some datasets, which “will accelerate our roadmap for building digital agents that can automate software workflows,” Prasad wrote. Amazon is using the technology under a non-exclusive license, the company said.

“David and his team’s expertise in training state-of-the-art multimodal foundational models and building real-world digital agents aligns with our vision to delight consumer and enterprise customers with practical AI solutions,” Prasad said.

Adept confirmed the move in a blog post. The company noted that developing its own AI models would’ve required more capital, and said the Amazon deal will allow it to focus on building agents. Adept will continue to operate as a standalone company after Luan and other execs join Amazon.

WATCH: Amazon Web Services CEO Adam Selipsky to step down

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