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From brain-computer interfaces to commercial AI

Dr. Alborz Rezazadeh graduated from Dr. Tom Chau’s lab in 2018 with a specialization in electrical and biomedical engineering. Since then, Alborz delved deep into the AI field and assumed various roles in multinational companies such as Samsung, LG, and Recursion. Now working as a senior applied scientist at Amazon, Alborz reflects on his journey throughout his graduate experience and how his diverse set of experiences shaped his understanding of artificial intelligence (AI). 

Role as a senior applied scientist 

Serving as a senior applied scientist at Amazon, Alborz’s responsibilities span from data analysis, design and developing research projects, and implementing algorithms in existing products. In the intricate ecosystem of Amazon, where customer satisfaction reigns supreme, his role is pivotal in crafting solutions that resonate with customer needs. 

“My role entails designing solutions and systems tailored to specific customer needs, alongside engaging in engineering work that encompasses coding, data science, and machine learning aspects,” Alborz elaborates. “The ultimate goal is to develop products that have a tangible impact across various domains, necessitating seamless alignment with other teams.” 

In his capacity, Alborz harnesses the power of AI and machine learning, particularly generative AI, to tackle complex challenges within the advertising and media landscape. While the specifics of his projects remain confidential, his work revolves around utilizing these cutting-edge technologies to meet evolving customer demands. 

Transition from academia to industry 

After completing Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo, Alborz started his career at Thalmic Labs, a renowned Waterloo-based company renowned for its gesture control armband, before starting his PhD studies in Dr. Tom Chau’s lab at the Holland Bloorview Children’s Hospital. 

At Dr. Chau’s lab, Alborz focused on developing a brain-computer interface (BCI) to help people with severe motor impairments communicate more easily. Traditional BCIs often require users to perform tasks that may not be intuitive, so his goal was to create a BCI that relies on imagined speech tasks, which are more natural and easier for users to understand. 

A major part of his project explores extracting specific brain signals to define whether the patient is conveying “yes” or “no” without speaking. 

“Tom’s unwavering focus on impacting even a single individual’s life left an indelible impression on me. It reinforced my belief in the importance of creating technology that makes a tangible difference in people’s lives.” Said Alborz. 

Observing the transition of AI in companies 

Alborz’s career journey began at Samsung’s AI research center, where he was immersed in a deeply academic environment led by Dr. Sven Dickinson. Despite being in an industry environment, the type of research done is similar to that of academia, with a focus on understanding AI as opposed to developing commercial applications. 

Continuing his journey, Alborz joined LG Research, where he focused on bridging research with product development. “Collaborating with product teams provided invaluable insights into translating AI research into practical applications,” Alborz reflects.  

A pivotal shift occurred when Alborz took on the role of Director of Computer Vision at Recursion, delving into the biotechnology and drug discovery realm. “Leading a team in a fast-paced startup environment offered unique insights into applying AI to revolutionize drug discovery processes,” Alborz explains. 

Alborz’s journey culminated in his recent role at Amazon, where he is currently working as a senior applied scientist. 

Having immersed himself in the realm of AI for six years, Alborz witnessed its evolution from an academic pursuit to a domain dominated by commercialized products.  

“Six years ago feels like an infinity in the AI field. It was difficult to imagine AI as a product, which is a far-cry from how company perceive this technology now.” Said Alborz. 

One notable observation that caught his attention was the level of AI literacy among the general public, which has significantly increased over the years. 

“Six years ago, there was a prevalent misconception regarding the role of data in model creation. However, today, there is a broader recognition of the data-centric nature of AI development. Many terminologies are commonplace amongst investors and layman.” Said Alborz. 

As AI becomes increasingly ubiquitous, it’s emerging as a buzzword frequently tossed around in various contexts. However, it’s crucial to recognize that not every problem requires an AI solution. From a developer’s standpoint, it’s essential to acknowledge that AI is not an infinite resource; its effectiveness is constrained by factors such as server capacity and computational processing power. 

“It’s essential to assess whether simpler, more cost-effective approaches could suffice.” Said Alborz, “Amazon’s leadership principle, ‘invent and simplify,’ underscores the importance of this approach,” he concludes. “Opting for simplicity often yields better outcomes.”