The Las Vegas conference will focus on business benefits of machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and space.
Even with more than 610,000 employees, Amazon is increasingly reliant on technologies that augment or replace human labor, such as the robot trolleys moving goods around its fulfillment centers and the computer vision and sensor systems that enable its cashierless convenience stores.
The company announced a new conference devoted to these technologies Thursday, saying machine learning and artificial intelligence “are behind almost everything we do at Amazon.”
The conference, set for early June in Las Vegas, is modeled on the private MARS confab Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has held for the last three years. Last year he allowed some reporters to join the roughly 200 invitees at the March event in Palm Springs, California.
The conference name is an acronym for machine learning, automation, robotics and space, though the Red Planet is surely up for discussion.
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Amazon’s re:MARS — adopting the naming convention it uses for its big Amazon Web Services conference in the fall, re:Invent — promises to be “significantly larger” than Bezos’ invitation-only gathering. The company provided no firm details on how many scientists, academics and business people it expects to attend.
Amazon promised talks, workshops and demonstrations from its experts, covering topics including Alexa, drone delivery and how artificial intelligence can “drive business efficiency, streamline operations, improve automation, reach customers through new services and interfaces, and more.”
It did not say whether the program would cover any of the potential downsides to these technologies. Machine-learning systems and the data they are trained on can reflect and amplify existing racial and gender biases. There are growing fears about economic displacement as jobs are lost to automation. The company said the agenda is still being developed.
“This is unique event,” said Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Artificial intelligence, adding that he’s been privileged to participate in all three MARS conferences and plans to go again this year.
He said he anticipates the scaled-up version to be like “a more technical, targeted version of TED,” the Technology Education and Design conferences that feature short-format talks from experts in a range of endeavors.
The last part of the MARS acronym, space, is one area where Amazon itself has not made much of a splash. Space exploration is the purview of Bezos’ Blue Origin. Amazon is not without examples of space-related businesses, however.
At re:Invent in November it announced AWS Ground Station — a global network of a dozen antennas available to rent, allowing customers to receive satellite data that can be efficiently fed into AWS cloud-computing services. The move is a reflection of the growing fleet of commercial satellites providing observations and data to a wide range of industries and customers.