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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos talks about Prime, logistics and AI

June 1, 2016 09:38 AM
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(Bloomberg)—Jeff Bezos spends about as much time talking at industry conferences as he does speaking to Wall Street investors—a few hours a year. Interviewed by technology journalist Walt Mossberg, the Amazon.com Inc. chief executive officer spoke at Recode's Code conference Tuesday night about artificial intelligence, privacy on the internet, his goals with the Washington Post, Amazon’s ambitions in entertainment, and more. Amazon is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide.

Here are six highlights from the interview:

Amazon Prime Video 'helps sell more shoes'

For Netflix, Amazon is a particularly complex competitor because their goals aren't the same. The way Bezos looks at streaming video: "It helps us sell more shoes," he said. "Prime members buy more." (One thing they won't be able to buy is an Apple TV. Bezos said Amazon won't carry the product because it doesn't have an Amazon Video app installed on it.) The next industry that will have to worry about the Amazon effect is bricks-and-mortar booksellers, such as Barnes & Nobles. Amazon has a bookstore in Seattle and plans to open another one in San Diego. Bezos said the company is testing ways to improve the "browsing" experience for books, while also catering to Prime customers. "We have a few experiments we are rolling out," he said. "We will probably open some more."

Amazon isn't trying to kill UPS

If you live in a major city, you've probably seen more trucks featuring Amazon's smiling, orange logo zipping around. The company has been expanding its logistics operations globally. At the same time, it's spending more with carriers, such as UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, Bezos said. Amazon's goal isn't to replace those carriers; it wants to pick up the slack when delivery services can't handle the load, he said. Some places need more help than others. In the U.K., for example, Amazon trucks support about half the company's deliveries, Bezos said. "We have had to take over a lot of the last mile delivery in the U.K. over the last several years," he said. "The Royal Mail ran out of capacity at peak." In India, Amazon is doing most of the last-mile deliveries and opening more distribution centers.

AI will have a massive impact on society in the next 20 years

Amazon has been working on artificial intelligence for the last four years, and it now has more than 1,000 people working on that project, which also includes its Echo speakers, Bezos said. Needless to say, the 52-year-old CEO thinks AI is a big deal. "It's probably hard to overstate how big of an impact it's going to have on society over next 20 years," he said. While computers are getting smarter, their brainpower is nowhere near as efficient as human's, he said. So there's plenty of room to improve things for at least the next couple decades.

Government surveillance is an 'issue of our age'

Internet companies are amassing enormous databases on people's habits and preferences, and governments want it. Amazon is on Apple's side of the government surveillance debate, Bezos said. On the topic of privacy, he said companies need to be more transparent about their collection of users' personal data. For example, he noted how Amazon makes an effort to greet customers by name. That way, "you know you are not anonymous on our site."

Gawker's opponents need a 'thick skin'

As a newspaper mogul and tech company CEO, Bezos offers a unique perspective on the issue that has captivated Silicon Valley since last week. Peter Thiel, a billionaire venture capitalist and entrepreneur, said he's been secretly financing Hulk Hogan and other plaintiffs suing Gawker Media LLC. Several tech titans came out to voice their support, calling the media- and celebrity-focused publication a bully. Bezos said he disagreed with Thiel's actions and that the billionaire needs to "develop a thick skin." Bezos said it's wrong to use money as a weapon against free speech. "Beautiful speech doesn't need protection," he said. "It's ugly speech that needs protection."

Donald Trump's attempt to freeze media critics is 'not appropriate'

Earlier this month, Bezos spoke at a conference sponsored by the Washington Post and said that Trump's comments were “not an appropriate way for a presidential candidate to behave.” Bezos was asked again about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and elaborated on his views. He said Trump's attempts to freeze critics in the media is "not appropriate." Anyone running for president should embrace criticism, free speech, and all forms of Constitutional values, he said. Bezos referenced a standoff between Katherine Graham, the former owner of the Post, and President Richard Nixon. A Nixon administration official threatened to put a part of Graham's anatomy through "a big, fat wringer" if the Post published a controversial story. Bezos said: "With Kay Graham as my role model, I'm very willing to let any of my body parts go through a big, fat wringer, if need be."

 

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