Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

  • David Ryder | getty
  • Business Impact

    Jeff Bezos gave a sneak peek into Amazon’s future

    Amazon is a notoriously secretive company, but its recent conference provides a glance at its far-out plans.

    You can see the future of Amazon from MARS.

    In this case, MARS stands for “machine learning, home automation, robotics, and space exploration”—an invitation-only conference in Palm Springs, California, hosted by Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos. This year’s conference, the third annual, wrapped up on Wednesday.

    It wasn’t a normal conference. No deals were made. No products were announced. In fact, there wasn’t even any Amazon branding anywhere. During the two days in the desert, the 200 guests—including a Nobel Prize winner, astronauts, designers, and the actor and Parkinson’s research advocate Michael J. Fox—explored their adventurous side with activities like knife making and biplane rides. Ostensibly, the focus of the conference was on the presentations the guests could make to each other about their work or passions. But the event’s real power was a glimpse into Amazon’s future.

    And it suggests that Bezos’s plans for the company are expansive.

    Many of the talks discussed subjects on Amazon’s existing product road maps, and many of the guests represented companies already aligned with its businesses. Amazon’s Alexa voice-activated software is already integrated into products from speaker company Sonos and automaker Ford—and the CEO of Sonos and the CTO of Ford were both guests. Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, demonstrated indoor drones that could one day pick up an item off a sky-high shelf in an Amazon warehouse. And recent whispers about Amazon’s interest in health care were backed up with presentations by Sonde, an AI firm that can diagnosis mental and physical health from voice recordings, and Seismic, a clothing company that helps wearers gain more mobility thanks to robotic garments.

    Sign up for the The Algorithm
    News and views on the latest in artificial intelligence

    By signing up you agree to receive email newsletters and notifications from MIT Technology Review. You can change your preferences at any time. View our Privacy Policy for more detail.

    But Bezos appears to have more far-out plans, too.

    Planetary scientists presented the latest discoveries on gravitational waves and pulsars. While research on gravitational waves is still ongoing, Bezos clearly thinks that a more nuanced understanding of gravity could shape innovations of the future. Pulsars could have implications for Bezos’s 10,000-year clock, a $42 million timepiece claimed to be an important way to think about humanity in the long term (though some folks are skeptical about that). Quite how this shapes Amazon’s future is unclear, but it’s obvious that Bezos is thinking very hard about it. (These particular topics do align nicely with his non-Amazon aerospace company, Blue Origin.)

    Jackie Snow

    Most telling, though, was Bezos’s sheer enthusiasm. He was on hand for the whole conference and paid close attention to everything, like an excited schoolboy turned billionaire entrepreneur. He sat in the front row. He tested demos (even playing Ping-Pong against a robot; he lost). He took control of the Boston Dynamics robo-dog. He’s excited and enthralled by what the future has to offer.

    And ultimately, he said as much. On the last night of the event, Bezos addressed the attendees about MARS and his perspective on the future. “If you could hold a conference about the beginning of a golden age,” he said, “why wouldn’t you? It’s so fun. And I really do believe that we are on the leading edge of an incredible renaissance. I’m so optimistic about it.”

    Apart from all the potential for shaping Amazon on this planet and perhaps even the next, the conference was maybe just a little bit of fun for Bezos too. “I leave with a big kick in my step,” he said.

    Couldn't get to Cambridge? We brought EmTech MIT to you!

    Watch session videos here
    Jackie Snow
    More from Business Impact

    How technology advances are changing the economy and providing new opportunities in many industries.

    Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
    • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

      {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

      Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

      See details+

      Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

      Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

      The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

      Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

      10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

      Ad-free website experience

    • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

      {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

      Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

      See details+

      Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

      Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

      The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

      {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

      Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

      See details+

      Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

      The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    /3
    You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.