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How Alibaba-backed startup Twiggle is making a ‘new kind’ of search with AI

Yesterday Alibaba gave investors a view into how it believes it will develop over the coming years. Among talks about how it plans to empower logistics, build rural ecommerce and develop its B2B cloud services was plenty of talk on big data, machine learning and how all this will play into its consumer-facing services, as well as its advertising offering.

Its investments over the past year have echoed this as the company led the second part of a series A funding round of Twiggle, an artificial intelligence search business that has its eyes set on disrupting the ecommerce market.

Twiggle’s founders come from a hybrid of search and ecommerce backgrounds; Dr. Amir Konigsberg, was previously a Google employee in emerging markets and a former managing director of MySupermarket.com, and Dr. Adi Avidor a former engineering tech lead at Google.

Konisberg spoke with The Drum about the investment and helped explain exactly how they see machine learning and artificial intelligence fitting into the search ecosystem.

What does the Alibaba investment mean for you? How will you grow the business now?

Alibaba is leader in the global ecommerce industry and their latest investment is a reflection of the belief they have in Twiggle’s potential. We’re attempting to redefine Search in ecommerce and embarking upon a mission of this magnitude with an investor of this calibre is a major testament to what we can achieve. The entire funding to date will be used for global expansion, growing our engineering teams and to drive continued innovation so that we can channel the most advanced techniques and approaches in Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Understanding to set a new standard for ecommerce search.

Why are they a good partner for you?

Alibaba is a good partner as not only are they leading the ecommerce revolution, but they are uniquely aware of the power innovative technology has to redefine the sector. They are also very much aware of the kind of technologies that will be needed for the next generation of e-commerce experiences. Their investment is a testament to what we’re building and demonstrates a deep confidence and understanding in Twiggle’s potential as a company and as a game changing technology.

Will you be moving into Asia?

At some point soon I believe we will.

How important will AI be for search?

Various forms of AI have already begun to impact the quality of search results and the accuracy with which search engines interpret search queries. AI will impact Search in several ways.

It will impact the way engines understand search queries. Search engines will slowly transition from responding to queries by matching the words contained in the to the words that appear on website pages, to responding to queries based on a deeper understanding of what they mean. This form of understanding will come from increased capabilities in natural language understanding.

It will impact the way data is gathered, interpreted, and structured, making the process of searching it more efficient and effective, and more attuned to what people actually want to know. In this sense, search engines will begin to accumulate ‘knowledge’ which will allow them to provide more intelligent responses to people’s search queries.

It will impact the way Search works and the way we experience it. Search can be so much better than it currently is. It can include conversational elements in it, in which you can actually have a dialogue with the intelligent and knowledgeable engine your conversing with. It can include highly personalized and contextually aware suggestions and recommendations. It can include contextual data intelligently amassed from the web at large. It can provide expert advice (based on its knowledge) in the form of a virtual expert with which you can converse, naturally, until you find what you were looking for and are happy with it.

Twiggle is doing all of this for Search in e-commerce. By focusing on one specific domain – e-commerce – we’re taking Search forward in all of these dimensions.

How can marketers and brands prepare for this?

Marketers can prepare for AI by embracing these new technologies. They’re now transitioning from technologies into products and are going to develop at a rapid rate and the sooner you start adapting to them, and even using them to your advantage, the more you have to gain. Marketing teams should keep a close eye on developments in this space and get up to speed with the potential efficiencies it creates.

Does it mean doing things differently?

Marketers should be concentrating on how they can use new technology to enhance their abilities rather than worrying about technology replacing them. The very best thing they can do is invest in continually improving skills and taking the time to understand the changes that are happening right now. It will be the unskilled, repetitive tasks which will be the first to be automated.

Where do you see the business in five years’ time?

We’re developing a new kind of search experience unique designed for e-commerce. What we’re doing has received huge interest from the world’s leaders in e-commerce, which is testament to the need for this kind of technology. We’re currently building our technologies so that can scale and be deployed on more customers in shorter timeframes. In the coming years I see our approach to e-commerce search becoming the standard form of Search for e-commerce. I also see it as the kind of experience that people will expect to have when they shop on any device.

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Charlotte McEleny

Charlotte McEleny is The Drum's Asia Editor, charged with finding all the interesting industry news and insights from the Asia Pacific region. During her year in Asia, she's covered topics as wide ranging as industry overwork to artificial intelligence, and interviewed top CMOs such as Alibaba's Chris Tung, and world famous creatives such as Rankin.

Based in Singapore, she travels the region regularly, attending and presenting at many top events, such as Spikes, Ad Week Asia and Innovfest.

Prior to her role as Asia Editor, she spent 10 years working across the London marketing trade magazines, even picking up an award for Best Digital Team at the PPA Digital Awards during her spell as digital editor at Marketing.

All by Charlotte