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AWS CEO Andy Jassy talks AI, on-premises moves

LAS VEGAS — AWS CEO Andy Jassy this week defended his company’s ethical decisions around the use of AI on its platform and shed some light on its impending move into corporate data centers.

Jassy’s post-keynote press conference here at re:Invent is generally the only occasion each year the Amazon cloud exec takes questions in this type of setting. In addition to AI and the on-premises infrastructure service AWS Outpost, Jassy talked about AWS’ often criticized relationship with the open source community, and the significance of Amazon’s new second headquarters.

Here are some of the excerpts from the hour-long session, edited for brevity and clarity.

On why AWS has pushed so heavily into AI:

“We’re entering this golden age of what couple be possible with applications; and I don’t know if it’s five years from now or 10 years from now, but virtually every application will have machine learning and AI infused in it.”

On how AWS will enforce ethical use of its AI services:

First, the algorithms that different companies produce have to constantly be benchmarked and iterated and refined so they’re as accurate as possible. It also has to be clear how you recommend them using the services. For example, facial recognition for matching celebrity photos, you can have a confidence level of 80%, but if you’re using facial recognition for something like law enforcement, something that can impact people’s civil liberties, you need to have a very high threshold. We recommend at least [a] 99% threshold for things like law enforcement, and even then it shouldn’t be the sole determinant. There should be a human involved, there should be a number of inputs and machine learning should only one of the inputs.

[Customers] get to make decisions for how they want to use our platform. We give a lot of guidance and if we think people are violating our terms of service, we’ll suspend and disable people from using that. But I think society as a whole, our countries as a whole, we really want them to make rules for how things should be used and we’ll participate and abide by that.”

On what hardware vendors they’ll use for for AWS Outposts:

“We use a lot of different hardware in our data centers, so we can interchange whatever hardware we want. At the beginning of AWS, we primarily used OEMs like the Dells and the HPs, but over time, we’ve done more contract manufacturing and more design of our own chips. We’re always open to whatever hardware providers want to provide to us at the right price point.”

On whether Outposts will eventually provide the full catalog of AWS services:

“It remains to be seen how many total service we’ll have on Outposts. Our initial goal is not to recreate all of AWS in Outposts. They’re kind of different delivery models and folks that have done that today [with attempts at full parity] have frustrated customers and they just haven’t gotten the traction that they wanted.

There are some really basic components that customers would like for us to provide on premises, as they connect to the cloud as well as locally – compute, storage, database, machine learning and analytics are good examples of that.”

On Outposts’ specs and getting into the on-premises server management business:

“We’re not ready to release the specs yet, but stay tuned. In general, there’s going to be racks with the same hardware we run in our AWS regions. They can be configured in different ways, depending on which variants you want and which services you want on those racks. People will be able to customize that to some degree.

In terms of scaling out people, over time we have become pretty good at finding ways to streamline operations and we have quite a large number of people in data center operations around the world… so we have a little bit of an idea of how to do that.

Also, if you think about what Amazon does across its business, we’re very comfortable running high volume. We know how to keep our costs low.”

On whether Amazon’s decision to locate its second headquarters in Virginia and New York will affect AWS:

“As much as we have successfully built a significant-size team in Seattle, we can’t convince everyone to move to Seattle. Just in AWS alone we have people in Boston, Virginia, [Washington] DC, New York, Dublin and Vancouver… Because AWS continues to grow at such a rapid rate, I think it’s a fair bet that we’ll have a lot of [employees] in those two HQ2s.”

On its relationship with the open source community:

“We contribute quite a bit and participate quite a bit. We do it across so many things. If you think about some of the open standards we build on, we have to contribute back. We do it with Linux and for instance, about 50[%] to 60% of the contributions are made by AWS; look at ElasticSearch, FreeRTOS and ARM.

Sometimes people lose sight [of how much we contribute], probably because we don’t do a good enough job making people aware of how many open source contributions we make across how many different projects.”

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