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Data localisation is fine, but build encryption standards: Werner Vogels, VP & CTO Amazon

Data-driven analytics and datadriven decision-making are “around the corner”, Werner Vogels, VP and chief technology officer at Amazon ET on the sidelines of Amazon Web Services’ annual developer conference — re:Invent. Vogels said voice as an interface, autonomous mobility in trucks and machine learning on the Cloud will dominate technology in the next few years.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 10, 2019, 07.03 AM IST
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Werner Vogels, VP and chief technology officer, Amazon
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is driving companies across industries to use data the way the ecommerce giant itself did over the past 20 years to become one of the most dominant players in the global technology landscape.

Data-driven analytics and datadriven decision-making are “around the corner”, Werner Vogels, VP and chief technology officer at Amazon told ET’s Alnoor Peermohamed on the sidelines of Amazon Web Services’ annual developer conference — re:Invent — in Las Vegas recently. Vogels said voice as an interface (Alexa), autonomous mobility in trucks and machine learning on the Cloud will dominate technology in the next few years. Excerpts:

Which technology will deliver the next big shift?
I think Bracket is still a little bit away, it’s still mostly about experimentation. Apart from that, any of the things you mentioned may work.

In the past, only the largest companies with the most money could use IT to compete, but that’s no longer the case. So, what is it that companies compete on? Next to some unique capabilities, it’s the data that they have. Data, data-driven analytics and data-driven decision-making are just around the corner.

For consumers, voice is absolutely the next way in accessing digital systems. Many people look at the devices we build, like the Echo, as a sort of digital assistant for the cool kids. But, it’s more important for others, especially the elderly, and people who cannot read or write.

Amazon has really doubled down on voice and you’ve launched in multiple languages in India. Yet, the services still do not cater to a person who is illiterate. When will that begin to happen?

There’s a device, but it doesn’t really do that much, it’s the Alexa Voice Service that’s behind it. I think we created a service such that others can innovate on top of that... It all depends on cost and opportunity.

For example, in Southeast Asia, the International Rice Research Institute built a system wherein farmers could fill in their land size and where it was located, and it would give insights on how muchfertiliserto buy and when to apply it. No farmer ever used it, because the farmers that they were targeting had never used a computer. But, there was a phone in the village, so they could use that to dial in, and with a voice-driven system, describe their piece of land. Machine learning goes off and comes back with an answer. This actually doubled their yields and reduced the use of fertiliser by 90%.

How much of Amazon’s success in India is down to technology versus the $5 billion it has invested in the business so far?

We’ve been in India for a very long time. I honestly believe in retail, building out a new country is a capital-intensive thing. You not only have to build technology, but also fulfilment centres and those are pretty complex and require a lot of investment. But if you really look at it, it’s all technology-driven and Amazon, too, has to pay its AWS bill.

India wants data produced locally to be stored and processed within the country. Is it good or bad — not just for AWS, but for the technology industry as a whole?
Given that we have an AWS region in India, I’m fine with it. But, what is more important is governments focusing on improving encryption standards. Whether you store your data in one country or another, encrypting the data is the most important thing. Now, the question is why does the government ask for it (data localisation), is it because they want access to the data? We’re notoriously protective of our customers in terms of security and privacy, and a government will only be able to get access to any data only with a valid subpoena.

You said Industry 4.0 isn’t here yet, because machinery in factories is outdated and do not collect data. Does Amazon then sit back and wait for the industry to upgrade or push to get that done faster?
We give people the software capabilities to do this with the IoT core and other things we’ve built. This allows companies to no longer worry about the software side. Is it necessary for companies to upgrade all their hardware? Sometimes it is, but other times only slight modifications are necessary to start collecting that data, instead of waiting for the alarm to go off.

(The correspondent was in Las Vegas for re:Invent 2019 at the invitation of Amazon Web Services)
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