Amazon promotes advanced computing - as a way to make money!
Amazon promotes advanced computing - as a way to make money!
Written by Mike James   
Thursday, 28 April 2011

The latest profit figures for Amazon are below expectations but CEO Jeff Bezos doesn't apologise for spending $3 billion on R&D. Instead he has written a shareholder's letter that evangelizes advanced computer science and its potential to make a profit.

The letter is so amazing in these days of dumbing down that it is worth quoting from just in case you don't get round to reading it in its entirety.

"Random forests, naïve Bayesian estimators, RESTful services, gossip protocols, eventual consistency, data sharding, anti-entropy, Byzantine quorum, erasure coding, vector clocks … walk into certain Amazon meetings, and you may momentarily think you’ve stumbled into a computer science lecture.

Look inside a current textbook on software architecture, and you’ll find few patterns that we don’t apply at Amazon. We use high-performance transactions systems, complex rendering and object caching, workflow and queuing systems, business intelligence and data analytics, machine learning and pattern recognition, neural networks and probabilistic decision making, and a wide variety of other techniques. And while many of our systems are based on the latest in computer science research, this often hasn’t been sufficient: our architects and engineers have had to advance research in directions that no academic had yet taken. Many of the problems we face have no textbook solutions, and so we -- happily -- invent new approaches."

You almost want to stand up and cheer at this point! What is more he really does sound as if he understands all of the stuff he is writing about - how many CEOs can claim to do the same?

The rest of the letter goes on to explain how Amazon is building web services using SOA and how this is a major part of the future of Amazon - and you thought it was just an online bookshop! Even in this section of the letter there is enough technology to send the average non-techie into a tailspin with talk of key-value stores and persistence solutions. Of course this might not be the best time to be extolling the virtues of Amazon's EC2 cloud infrastructure given the extended outage it has just suffered - but then again perhaps it is, since the outage did point out how much the web depends on Amazon.


The letter then goes on to explain how Amazon is using AI techniques to process the data generated by the side of the company that actually sells things.

"For example, our search engine employs data mining and machine learning algorithms that run in the background to build topic models, and we apply information extraction algorithms to identify attributes and extract entities from unstructured descriptions, allowing customers to narrow their searches and quickly find the desired product. "

Finally he points out that even Whispersync, the 3G phone system that allows the Kindle to download and sync books almost no matter where you are, is quite an invention.

"At the heart of Whispersync is an eventually consistent replicated data store, with application defined conflict resolution that must and can deal with device isolation lasting weeks or longer."

And I thought Kindle was just an ebook reader.

At the end of the letter Bezos does go back to boring old money issues and assures the shareholders that this really is the way to make a lot of money.

This is indeed the way to do it and left us hope he continues to spend the billions on R&D into the future - after all what are profits for?

You may not like everything that Amazon is doing but to have someone stand up for technology and advanced computing in particular is no bad thing.

More Information

Full text of letter to shareholders


Source: Business Insider



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Last Updated ( Thursday, 28 April 2011 )

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