Amazon at WSDM: How the scale of the web makes old problems new

Amazon scientists and conference general chairs Liane Lewin-Eytan and David Carmel on the transformations wrought when data goes online.

Two of the three general chairs at this year’s ACM Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM) are scientists from Alexa Shopping’s offices in Haifa, Israel: Liane Lewin-Eytan, senior manager of applied research, and David Carmel, a principal applied scientist.

When they volunteered for the role, Lewin-Eytan and Carmel were hoping to bring the conference to Jerusalem. “It was the beginning of March [2020],” Lewin-Eytan says. “We had a beautiful bid, with many, many attractions in Jerusalem, because the steering committee of the conference takes also into consideration what the country can offer to participants. We were very excited to bring it here — it was a big honor to the local community — but because of COVID-19, we ended up online. We still hope to host the conference here one day.”

Lewin-Eytan and Carmel.png
Two of the three general chairs at this year's WSDM are researchers with Alexa Shopping: Liane Lewin-Eytan (left), a senior manager of applied research, and David Carmel, a principal applied scientist.

Despite their disappointment, being general chairs gives Lewin-Eytan and Carmel a privileged perspective on the conference as a whole — on the full gamut of presentations and talks and what they say about the field of Web-based search.

“This is quite a young conference,” Carmel says. “It began only in 2008. I think from the first day I was there. The popular conference at that time, WWW [now known as the Web Conference], and all the other conferences that dealt with web data did not give much attention to search. So the idea was to do a kind of spinoff. And the success was tremendous. In a very short time, the conference took a very strong position in the community, and it became one of the prestigious conferences in this area.”

Having been a regular attendee at the conference from the outset, Carmel notes a few novel trends in this year’s paper submissions.

“One of them is an increased interest in e-commerce search,” Carmel says. “Product search has been around for a while in the Web community, but with more and more large companies researching this area, we see more innovative work being submitted and published at WSDM. Topics include not only searching for products to buy but also asking questions about them, discussing their benefits and attributes, which opens the way for new applications and new research.

“Another emerging topic these last few years has been health, which has become even more timely during COVID. As soon as health data, both structured and unstructured, were made available online, it became relevant to WSDM.”

“When a given domain starts to put data online and open it to users, domain-specific web-mining techniques are invented and new applications and services are launched,” Lewin-Eytan adds. “This mix of a given domain — like health, commerce, or tourism — and the Web fosters creativity and drives innovation for that domain”.

Gauging customer satisfaction

For Lewin-Eytan and Carmel, the emphasis on e-commerce is of particular interest, since that’s the problem they’re working on at Alexa Shopping. As Lewin-Eytan explains, the standard approach to search, which ranks results according to the click-through behaviors of people who were presented those results in the past, doesn’t translate easily to product search.

“People take different actions over products,” Lewin-Eytan says. “For instance, you can add a product to a shopping cart, or order it — conduct an actual transaction. While in the web you have a large number of clicks, because clicking doesn’t cost you anything, when you have to take out your credit card and buy something, it’s a totally different experience, and you don’t do that as often. So a transaction cannot be the only signal of satisfaction. If you didn’t do anything with the search results, it doesn’t mean that the search engine didn’t provide relevant results.” 

The difficulty of gauging customer satisfaction is even more acute with voice-based queries. When a customer sees a list of on-screen options, the decision not to select a product is as informative as the decision to select one.

With voice-based product search, by contrast, “you have just one chance to be successful, the first one, as the customer typically doesn’t listen to more than one result,” Lewin-Eytan says. “So the problem is much harder. What also makes it harder is the data you can collect is only on what the customer saw, which is one result. So we have much, much less data to optimize for.”

One way that Lewin-Eytan, Carmel, and their colleagues are tackling this problem is by training machine learning models to predict how customers would have responded to the products they didn’t have the chance to see.

“It’s all about satisfying customers,” Lewin-Eytan explains. “That’s the hard task — both defining satisfaction, because it’s based on a number of subjective signals, and predicting it.”

In a similar vein, the Alexa Shopping team is working on predicting customers’ intents, which can dramatically alter the conclusions drawn from their transaction histories.

“We’re working now on understanding when the customer is being playful or when she has an actionable intent,” Lewin-Eytan says. “Customers find a lot of entertainment in these systems, especially with voice assistants. And sometimes their intentions are really hard to infer.”

That focus on customers, Lewin-Eytan and Carmel say, helps explain why they find participating in WSDM so rewarding. “What’s great about WSDM is that every paper is judged based on its value to Web users,” Carmel says. “That makes it particularly attractive to scientists from a customer-centric company like Amazon.”

Related content

US, WA, Seattle
Note that this posting is for a handful of teams within Amazon Robotics. Teams include: Robotics, Computer Vision, Machine Learning, Optimization, and more.Are you excited about building high-performance robotic systems that can perceive and learn to help deliver for customers? The Amazon Robotics team is creating new science products and technologies that make this possible, at Amazon scale. We work at the intersection of computer vision, machine learning, robotic manipulation, navigation, and human-robot interaction.Amazon Robotics is seeking broad, curious applied scientists and engineering interns to join our diverse, full-stack team. In addition to designing, building, and delivering end-to-end robotic systems, our team is responsible for core infrastructure and tools that serve as the backbone of our robotic applications, enabling roboticists, applied scientists, software and hardware engineers to collaborate and deploy systems in the lab and in the field. We will give you the tools and support you need to invent with us in ways that are rewarding, fulfilling and fun. Come join us!A day in the lifeAs an intern you will develop a new algorithm to solve one of the challenging computer vision and manipulation problems in Amazon's robotic warehouses. Your project will fit your academic research experience and interests. You will code and test out your solutions in increasingly realistic scenarios and iterate on the idea with your mentor to find the best solution to the problem.
US, WA, Bellevue
The Global Supply Chain-ACES organization aims to raise the bar on Amazon’s customer experience by delivering holistic solutions for Global Customer Fulfillment that facilitate the effective and efficient movement of product through our supply chain. We develop strategies, processes, material handling and technology solutions, reporting and other mechanisms, which are simple, technology enabled, globally scalable, and locally relevant. We achieve this through cross-functional partnerships, listening to the needs of our customers and prioritizing initiatives to deliver maximum impact across the value chain. Within the organization, our Quality team balances tactical operation with operations partners with global engagement on programs to deliver improved inventory accuracy in our network. The organization is looking for an experienced Principal Data Scientist to partner with senior leadership to develop long term strategic solutions. As a Principal Scientist, they will lead critical initiatives for Global Supply Chain, leveraging complex data analysis and visualization to:a. Collaborate with business teams to define data requirements and processes;b. Automate data pipelines;c. Design, develop, and maintain scalable (automated) reports and dashboards that track progress towards plans;d. Define, track and report program success metrics.e. Serve as a technical science lead on our most demanding, cross-functional projects.
US, MA, North Reading
Are you inspired by invention? Is problem solving through teamwork in your DNA? Do you like the idea of seeing how your work impacts the bigger picture? Answer yes to any of these and you’ll fit right in here at Amazon Robotics. We are a smart team of doers that work passionately to apply cutting edge advances in robotics and software to solve real-world challenges that will transform our customers’ experiences in ways we can’t even imagine yet. We invent new improvements every day. We are Amazon Robotics and we will give you the tools and support you need to invent with us in ways that are rewarding, fulfilling and fun. The Research Science team at Amazon Robotics is seeking interns with a passion for robotic research to work on cutting edge algorithms for robotics. Our team works on challenging and high-impact projects, including allocating resources to complete a million orders a day, coordinating the motion of thousands of robots, autonomous navigation in warehouses, and learning how to grasp all the products Amazon sells. We are seeking internship candidates with backgrounds in computer vision, machine learning, resource allocation, discrete optimization, search, planning/scheduling, and reinforcement learning. As an intern you will develop a new algorithm to solve one of the challenging computer vision and manipulation problems in Amazon's robotic warehouses. Your project will fit your academic research experience and interests. You will code and test out your solutions in increasingly realistic scenarios and iterate on the idea with your mentor to find the best solution to the problem.
US, WA, Seattle
Are you excited about building high-performance robotic systems that can perceive, learn, and act intelligently alongside humans? The Robotics AI team is creating new science products and technologies that make this possible, at Amazon scale. We work at the intersection of computer vision, machine learning, robotic manipulation, navigation, and human-robot interaction.The Amazon Robotics team is seeking broad, curious applied scientists and engineering interns to join our diverse, full-stack team. In addition to designing, building, and delivering end-to-end robotic systems, our team is responsible for core infrastructure and tools that serve as the backbone of our robotic applications, enabling roboticists, applied scientists, software and hardware engineers to collaborate and deploy systems in the lab and in the field. Come join us!
US, WA, Bellevue
Employer: Amazon.com Services LLCPosition: Research Scientist IILocation: Bellevue, WA Multiple Positions Available1. Research, build and implement highly effective and innovative methods in Statistical Modeling, Machine Learning, and other quantitative techniques such as operational research and optimization to deliver algorithms that solve real business problems.2. Take initiative to scope and plan research projects based on roadmap of business owners and enable data-driven solutions. Participate in shaping roadmap for the research team.3. Ensure data quality throughout all stages of acquisition and processing of the data, including such areas as data sourcing/collection, ground truth generation, data analysis, experiment, evaluation and visualization etc.4. Navigate a variety of data sources, understand the business reality behind large-scale data and develop meaningful science solutions.5. Partner closely with product or/and program owners, as well as scientists and engineers in cross-functional teams with a clear path to business impact and deliver on demanding projects.6. Present proposals and results in a clear manner backed by data and coupled with conclusions to business customers and leadership team with various levels of technical knowledge, educating them about underlying systems, as well as sharing insights.7. Perform experiments to validate the feature additions as requested by domain expert teams.8. Some telecommuting benefits available.The pay range for this position in Bellevue, WA is $136,000-$184,000 (yr); however, base pay offered may vary depending on job-related knowledge, skills, and experience. A sign-on bonus and restricted stock units may be provided as part of the compensation package, in addition to a full range of medical, financial, and/or other benefits, dependent on the position offered. This information is provided by the Washington Equal Pay Act. Base pay information is based on market location. Applicants should apply via Amazon's internal or external careers site.#0000
US, VA, Arlington
The Central Science Team within Amazon’s People Experience and Technology org (PXTCS) uses economics, behavioral science, statistics, and machine learning to proactively identify mechanisms and process improvements which simultaneously improve Amazon and the lives, well-being, and the value of work to Amazonians. We are an interdisciplinary team, which combines the talents of science and engineering to develop and deliver solutions that measurably achieve this goal. As Director for PXT Central Science Technology, you will be responsible for leading multiple teams through rapidly evolving complex demands and define, develop, deliver and execute on our science roadmap and vision. You will provide thought leadership to scientists and engineers to invent and implement scalable machine learning recommendations and data driven algorithms supporting flexible UI frameworks. You will manage and be responsible for delivering some of our most strategic technical initiatives. You will design, develop and operate new, highly scalable software systems that support Amazon’s efforts to be Earth’s Best Employer and have a significant impact on Amazon’s commitment to our employees and communities where we both serve and employ 1.3 million Amazonians. As Director of Applied Science, you will be part of the larger technical leadership community at Amazon. This community forms the backbone of the company, plays a critical role in the broad business planning, works closely with senior executives to develop business targets and resource requirements, influences our long-term technical and business strategy, helps hire and develop engineering leaders and developers, and ultimately enables us to deliver engineering innovations.This role is posted for Arlington, VA, but we are flexible on location at many of our offices in the US and Canada.
US, VA, Arlington
Employer: Amazon.com Services LLCPosition: Data Scientist IILocation: Arlington, VAMultiple Positions Available1. Manage and execute entire projects or components of large projects from start to finish including data gathering and manipulation, synthesis and modeling, problem solving, and communication of insights and recommendations.2. Oversee the development and implementation of data integration and analytic strategies to support population health initiatives.3. Leverage big data to explore and introduce areas of analytics and technologies.4. Analyze data to identify opportunities to impact populations.5. Perform advanced integrated comprehensive reporting, consultative, and analytical expertise to provide healthcare cost and utilization data and translate findings into actionable information for internal and external stakeholders.6. Oversee the collection of data, ensuring timelines are met, data is accurate and within established format.7. Act as a data and technical resource and escalation point for data issues, ensuring they are brought to resolution.8. Serve as the subject matter expert on health care benefits data modeling, system architecture, data governance, and business intelligence tools. #0000
US, TX, Dallas
Employer: Amazon.com Services LLCPosition: Data Scientist II (multiple positions available)Location: Dallas, TX Multiple Positions Available:1. Assist customers to deliver Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) projects from beginning to end, by aggregating data, exploring data, building and validating predictive models, and deploying completed models to deliver business impact to the organization;2. Apply understanding of the customer’s business need and guide them to a solution using AWS AI Services, AWS AI Platforms, AWS AI Frameworks, and AWS AI EC2 Instances;3. Use Deep Learning frameworks like MXNet, PyTorch, Caffe 2, Tensorflow, Theano, CNTK, and Keras to help our customers build DL models;4. Research, design, implement and evaluate novel computer vision algorithms and ML/DL algorithms;5. Work with data architects and engineers to analyze, extract, normalize, and label relevant data;6. Work with DevOps engineers to help customers operationalize models after they are built;7. Assist customers with identifying model drift and retraining models;8. Research and implement novel ML and DL approaches, including using FPGA;9. Develop computer vision and machine learning methods and algorithms to address real-world customer use-cases; and10. Design and run experiments, research new algorithms, and work closely with engineers to put algorithms and models into practice to help solve customers' most challenging problems.11. Approximately 15% domestic and international travel required.12. Telecommuting benefits are available.#0000
US, WA, Seattle
MULTIPLE POSITIONS AVAILABLECompany: AMAZON.COM SERVICES LLCPosition Title: Manager III, Data ScienceLocation: Bellevue, WashingtonPosition Responsibilities:Manage a team of data scientists working to build large-scale, technical solutions to increase effectiveness of Amazon Fulfillment systems. Define key business goals and map them to the success of technical solutions. Aggregate, analyze and model data from multiple sources to inform business decisions. Manage and quantify improvement in the customer experience resulting from research outcomes. Develop and manage a long-term research vision and portfolio of research initiatives, with algorithms and models that to be integrated in production systems. Hire and mentor junior scientists.Amazon.com is an Equal Opportunity-Affirmative Action Employer – Minority / Female / Disability / Veteran / Gender Identity / Sexual Orientation #0000
US, VA, Arlington
MULTIPLE POSITIONS AVAILABLECompany: AMAZON.COM SERVICES LLCPosition Title: Data Scientist IILocation: Arlington, VirginiaPosition Responsibilities:Design and implement scalable and reliable approaches to support or automate decision making throughout the business. Apply a range of data science techniques and tools combined with subject matter expertise to solve difficult business problems and cases in which the solution approach is unclear. Acquire data by building the necessary SQL / ETL queries. Import processes through various company specific interfaces for accessing Oracle, RedShift, and Spark storage systems. Build relationships with stakeholders and counterparts. Analyze data for trends and input validity by inspecting univariate distributions, exploring bivariate relationships, constructing appropriate transformations, and tracking down the source and meaning of anomalies. Build models using statistical modeling, mathematical modeling, econometric modeling, network modeling, social network modeling, natural language processing, machine learning algorithms, genetic algorithms, and neural networks. Validate models against alternative approaches, expected and observed outcome, and other business defined key performance indicators. Implement models that comply with evaluations of the computational demands, accuracy, and reliability of the relevant ETL processes at various stages of production.Amazon.com is an Equal Opportunity-Affirmative Action Employer – Minority / Female / Disability / Veteran / Gender Identity / Sexual Orientation #0000