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Amazon SVP On Alexa And The ‘Star Trek’ Connection

Amazon Alexa

Regulatory scrutiny is indeed coming to bear on big tech firms — along with increased attention on consumer privacy and use of data — but it is unlikely to deter Amazon from the way it makes consumer-facing products.

In an interview with CNBC’s Jon Fortt at an Amazon conference in Las Vegas, Amazon Senior Vice President of Devices and Services David Limp said — in reference to recent headlines about possible congressional (and other) investigations into antitrust issues — that Amazon’s focus will remain on building “cool things that customers love to use … the outputs will speak for themselves.”

And when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) and data privacy, “customer trust is kind of the Amazon flywheel,” he said, adding that the eCommerce giant focuses on privacy amid product designs that range from doorbells to “Echo sitting in your kitchen. It has to be foundational to the product. It’s not something you glom on as an afterthought.”

Touching on conversational AI, and specifically on virtual assistant Alexa, he said that “the great thing about the Echo and Alexa is that customers love the product.” Limp noted that there are now hundreds of thousands of developers and 90,000 plus skills taking shape around Alexa. “If you had said five years ago that ‘there’s going to be this new developer ecosystem that is not about the operating system, it not about applications, but about skills in the cloud,’ you would have laughed,” he said. “But here it is, sitting in front of us, all around us.”

While customers may not yet be spurred to boost more eCommerce due to Alexa, they are “doing certain things in digital that lead to buying more” items. In one example, he said that Amazon has “kind of brought music back into the home again … it had atrophied in the home,” and now music subscription services have gained traction. He pointed to Spotify and Apple Music and audiobooks growing on Alexa. People are buying more smart home products, too, said the executive, because they are easier to control with voice interfaces.

Apple is introducing its own concepts of privacy with login, said the CNBC interviewer, and Limp responded that he is “a big fan of [such efforts to increase privacy] as a consumer. If you think Amazon and our credentials, being able to log on through Amazon, we’ve been doing that for 20 plus years. Your credit card number, and your address that you ship to — that’s sacrosanct. Any person or company that is furthering that, I think is great for the industry.”

CNBC’s Forrt asked if Alexa’s role could be likened to Google or to a “search business” — where Google, hypothetically speaking, could monetize search by selling its own products. “Is that the way to think about Alexa’s role in Amazon’s business?” he asked.

Limp said that in creating Alexa, the long-term goal had been to “kind of invent the Star Trek computer … it’s a lot more innocent that you might make it out to be.” He said it would take years, if not decades more, to reach “that shining star that is that Star Trek computer. We think we can have that.”

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