- As the tech industry giants come under fire from governments worldwide, a top Amazon exec shrugged off the potential fallout of antitrust investigations.
- Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer operations — which encompasses its ecommerce operations — said he thinks tech companies, including Amazon, should be scrutinized, but he’s not worried about what investigators will find.
- Wilke’s comments came at Amazon re:MARS, a new conference showing off the retailer’s latest and greatest technology, including updates on its idea to deliver packages via drone.
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As the tech industry giants come under fire from governments worldwide, a top Amazon exec shrugged off the potential fallout of antitrust investigations.
During a Q&A press conference on Wednesday during Amazon’s re:MARS robotics, AI and space tech conference taking place this week in Las Vegas, top executive Jeff Wilke was ready to be asked about the topic. Wilke is CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer operations, which includes retail, warehouses, Amazon Prime, Amazon Go and technology like drone deliveries (aka Amazon Air).
"We believe the most substantial entities in tech deserve scrutiny, and it’s our job to build a company that passes scrutiny," he said.
When a reporter asked him if he thought Amazon should be broken up he simply answered, "no."
Amazon shows how it all works
The questions and comments came in the context of Amazon’s first ever re:MARS conference, in which the company is giving the public a rare peek at the robots and artificial intelligence technologies the company employs to run its business.
For instance, presentations during a two-plus hour morning keynote featured various Amazon executives explaining how Amazon uses robots and AI to help it sell and deliver more than 14 million products every day.
Jenny Freshwasher, director of forecasting and capacity planning for Amazon, discussed the algorithms her team uses to help Amazon predict what customers will order so the company can stock enough supplies to meet its speedy Prime delivery promises, which can range from hours to two days.
Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon also discussed how Amazon over 200,000 robots worldwide in its warehouse, next to its 300,000 warehouse employees, to sort billions of packages a year. These robots take items from the shelves and send them off to the trucks and planes that will deliver them to all over the world.
Wilke explained that the company has mostly been "heads down" building products and services for customers, and the conference came about because "we have a lot to share." The conference is "a chance to learn from science and to contribute and advance the conversation," he said during the press conference.
Prior to this open-to-the public version of re:MARS, this was an annual invitational and mostly off-the-record event thrown by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos held in Palm Springs every year. The private event still took place this year and will continue to exist. But in contrast, Bezos is not wandering the floor here at the more open re:MARS. He will speak on stage on Thursday.
Wilke explained at the press conference that Amazon wants to talk more about all the AI technology that Amazon uses in its ever day operations. The idea is to help demystify it a bit.
But the conference comes amidst a backdrop of controversy over some of Amazon’s artificial intelligence technology and its private label business.
For instance, Amazon has come under fire for selling its facial recognition tech, Amazon Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies, after allegations that it did a less-than-perfect job in recognizing the faces of people of color (although Amazon says that those findings were based on tests that didn’t have the tech configured correctly.)
Wilke’s insisted that Amazon is being responsible in its use of artificial intelligence including "auditing" the models it uses to train its AI tech for "bias." He also pointed out that the company has earmarked $10 million with the National Science Foundation to fund grants of researchers working on fairness of the machine learning system. And he said that Amazon is working with other tech giants Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and the OpenAI in a consortium called Partnership on AI to come up with industry-standard guidelines for AI tech.
As for the fear that Amazon house brands could be the subject of investigation, Wilke had a response to that, as well. He said that private-label products has always been part of retail and that Amazon’s competitors do up to 20% of their sales via their own house brands.
Amazon’s private label business is 1% of its total sales, he said, and described it "as a tiny fraction of our business."
And he insisted that Amazon does not give its corporate employees access to any sellers data in order to choose which products to create on its own. It uses "data that is available to anyone. It’s the bestseller list."
Amazon looks at which items are selling best when deciding which items it should manufacturer on its own, he said.
"We don’t allow anyone inside Amazon to have access to any individual seller’s data to build a private label," he said.
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