We cannot ignore that the voice assistants we use today wouldn’t be possible without the tremendous speed of innovation that has occurred over the past two decades. These 11 technologists are having an outsized influence on today’s voice assistant landscape and the benefits consumers and enterprises receive from the services. They range from big company tech leaders such as Google’s Brad Abrams, Apple’s John Giannadrea, and Amazon’s Rohit Prasad to startup founders Jason Mars of Clinc, Chris Mitchell of Audio Analytic, and Arte Merrit of Dashbot. Below we have included bios for each honoree and why they made the 2019 list.
To learn more about the selection methodology and honorees in the other categories go here: Go to Overview
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // John Giannandrea is Apple’s SVP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy, reporting to CEO Tim Cook. He joined Apple in 2018 and oversees the strategy for AI and machine learning across the company and development of Core ML and Siri technologies. Hiring John away from Google was considered something of a coup for Apple while his direct line to Cook and promotion within six months has many observers believing that Apple is finally considering AI and the Siri voice assistant and strategic to the company’s future. With nearly 400 monthly active users on Siri as of 2017 and a fiercely loyal customer base, Apple is considered the sleeping giant of voice. Many believe Giannandrea is the critical leadership that Apple has lacked for the past several years that can make AI and voice a priority. Prior to Apple, John spent eight years at Google where he led the Machine Intelligence, Research and Search teams. Before this he was a co-founder of two technology companies, Tellme Networks and Metaweb Technologies. Tellme was best known for its interactive voice response solution and was acquired by Microsoft in 2007 only to later divest of much of the technology in 2012.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // As the key technical leadership behind Alexa’s artificial intelligence, Rohit has tremendous influence over the direction and features for one of the most popular consumer voice assistants in the market today and the one that gets the most media attention. He is also an increasingly visible Alexa leader for Amazon most recently debuting the demo for Alexa conversations and the cross-skill goal fulfillment which will significantly change how the voice assistant fulfills certain types of consumer requests. Rohit joined the Alexa team as director of machine learning in 2013, a full 18 months before the product’s soft launch in late 2014. Earlier in his career was with Raytheon BBN Technologies where he served as senior director of the speech, language, and multimedia business unit and a senior scientist.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Jason Mars is co-founder and CEO of Clinc, a conversational AI company that launched with a focus on the banking industry but has subsequently branched out to other verticals such as customer support, automotive, healthcare, and quick service restaurant drive-through solutions. Clinc initially became known for creating a customizable, voice-activated personal financial assistant and intelligence platform. Jason has devoted his career to solving difficult real-world problems, building sophisticated scalable systems for AI, computer vision, and natural language processing. Mars is a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, and also worked at Google and Intel. Clinc has raised nearly $60 million in venture capital funding, including a 2019 round of $52 million.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Dr. Chris Mitchell is the CEO of Audio Analytic, which he founded in 2010. As well as the holder of multiple patents, Chris is an internationally published author and an associate lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University. Following the completion of his PhD in sound information systems and signal processing, Chris received a Kauffman/NCGE Fellowship to investigate the commercial implications of his research, which included attending Harvard Business School and a short tour with Cisco Systems. Whereas many other professionals on this list are focused on speech recognition, Audio Analytic, centers its work around Mitchell’s research into recognizing sounds other than human speech. Many of the applications today of the technology are for identifying sounds that can indicate a health or safety risk for people within a building Audio Analytic has raised over $20 million, including a $12 million funding round in 2019.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Dr. Larry Heck is the CEO of Viv Labs and SVP and Head of Bixby North America at Samsung. From 2014-2017, he was a Research Director at Google, leading an advanced Dialogue R&D effort behind the Google Assistant. From 2009-2014, he was the Chief Scientist of the Microsoft Speech products team. In 2009, he co-founded the initiative that led to Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant. Earlier in his career, Larry was with Nuance and served as VP of R&D. He began his career as a researcher at the Stanford Research Institute initially in acoustics and later in speech research with the Speech Technology and Research Laboratory. He has also served on the advisory board for the Electrical and Computer Engineering department for the past six years at Georgia Tech where he earned his PhD in electrical engineering. During his career, Larry has worked on the technology behind many of today’s leading voice assistants and voice technology solutions. His new role at Samsung makes him a central figure in the next wave of voice assistant adoption.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Bouzid has more than 20 years experience working in speech technology. Early in his career he built a Natural Language Assistant while at Unisys in the 1990’s That was followed by time as a speech engineer at a startup and nearly 10 years with Angel.com / Genesys. He finished up at Genesys as vice president of product and innovation and eventually wound up on Amazon’s Alexa team working to build out its smart home integrations in 2015. Ahmed founded Witlingo in 2016 to help brands, nonprofits and other organizations, ranging from The Motley Fool and Berlitz to AARP, create voice enabled apps. He is a visiting lecturer at Weber State University and earned his Masters and PhD degrees from Virginia Tech. Ahmed is also the author of Don’t Make Me Tap – a common sense approach to voice usability.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Jan co-founded Jovo in 2017 shortly before being accepted to Betaworks’ Voice Camp accelerator. The company is best known for creating an open source framework that enables developers to build apps for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant from a single code base. Beyond that, Jan’s broader focus is to deliver a context-first development framework design for voice assistant apps and other solutions that operate seamlessly across multiple surfaces. Jovo’s open source framework currently has over 800 stars on GitHub and 40 contributors. Jan earned a Masters Degree in industrial engineering from Karlsruher Institut für Technologie.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Jeff Adams has spent more than two decades in the voice industry working for Scansoft, Nuance, and Amazon. He left Nuance to become VP of Research at Yap which was eventually acquired by Amazon. At Amazon, Adams led the original automated speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU) teams for what eventually became Alexa where he is also listed as the author on 21 patents. Just before Alexa’s launch, he left Amazon to start Cobalt Speech & Language which helps companies solve the biggest technical challenges in voice technology. He is also listed as a founder and CTO of both Canary Speech and Omnibot.ai.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Tucker was named one of the first Amazon Alexa Champions, based on his early work as an advocate among developers and end users for the technology. Tucker is a full-stack developer who wants to revolutionize the way people interact with information using voice technology. As a principal architect at VoiceXP he designed and developed over 30 Alexa Skills and 2 Google Actions. He recently joined Soar, a platform for Strengths Leadership development leading voice development.He also recently launched the open source project, Speech Markdown, to assist with Text-to-speech formatting for content authors, designers, and developers.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Merrit co-founded Dashbot.io in 2016. Dashbot has analyzed over 75 billion conversational messages from thousands of chatbots and voice apps and has quickly become the leader among conversational analytics providers as competitors have melted away. Previously, Arte founded mobile analytics platform Motally, which was acquired by Nokia. As an active member of the startup community, Merrit helped launch two accelerator programs, Turner Broadcasting’s Media Camp and Mobile Monday’s Momentum. He also is the organizer of the Chatbot and Voice Meetup in San Francisco and New York City.