As a frequenter of tech shows, I'm very familiar with the big-budget spectacle and fanfare that frequently accompany them. It can sometimes feel a bit overblown—data storage with a side of pyrotechnics is still data storage. However, one upcoming event on my calendar may warrant such a display. Amazon re:Mars, coming June 21-24 in Las Vegas, is Amazon's big showcase for its work on some of the hottest topics in tech and science—machine learning, AI, robotics and space. I'm very much looking forward to getting a closer look at the work Amazon is doing in partnership with educational and research organizations and those in the private sector. I got the chance recently to sit down with AWS's Rachel Thornton, CMO, and Swami Sivasubramanian, VP of Database Analytics and Machine Learning, and receive some more information on the upcoming to-do.
AWS held the first re:Mars event in 2019, the culmination of a plan to bring together communities, experts, product people, developers, researchers and more to share their enthusiasm and expertise on four of the most exciting topics in the world of tech: machine learning, AI, robotics and space. After taking a break for several years (presumably due to the pandemic), re:Mars is back this year in full force.
The event promises an opportunity to get hands-on and in-depth on these topics, but on a higher level also aims to inspire and get people excited over what is coming down the pipeline. The event is open to anyone and will feature three days of keynotes, innovation spotlights, labs, sessions and hackathons centered around these next-generation technologies and concepts. According to Thornton, developers, engineers, academics, research communities, business leaders and product teams stand to benefit from the event programming.
Admittedly, these are four very "buzzy" topics—though there's a lot to be genuinely excited about around each, there's also a lot of noise to cut through. Perhaps the buzziest of the bunch are Machine Learning and AI. With the disclaimer that it would be the hardest question I asked during our interview, I asked my friends from AWS if they believed the hype around AI and ML and where they saw the discussion going over the next five to ten years. Not surprisingly, Sivasubramanian was effusive about the technology's potential. Similar to how the cloud transformed the IT industry, he predicts that ML and AI will transform practically every sector in the coming years, including healthcare, public sector, finance, fashion, retail and more. Sivasubramanian voiced optimism around the innovation AWS is seeing its customers undertake. He cited an effort in San Diego to leverage ML models to help mitigate wildfires—top of mind for many on the West Coast as we head into the dry, hot summer months.
This hits on the point that is perhaps most exciting to me about these technologies right now—they no longer belong to just a few companies. As they get into the hands of more and more businesses and organizations, we'll see them utilized in novel, transformative ways. There's so much potential to be unlocked and we're only scratching the surface.
Sivasubramanian was recently invited to join the US Dept. of Commerce's National AI Advisory Committee, a consortium of representatives from the private sector, research and education and even labor organizations like the AFL-CIO. I asked him about the diverse group and how this wide range of voices impacts conversations about Artificial Intelligence. He stressed the importance of exploring topics such as the education and retraining of the workforce and determining suitable regulations for the nascent technology. Naturally, since AI will impact everyone, it's crucial to have a diverse panel of voices at the table advising the President on such issues.
Next, we moved over to robotics, the third of the four technology areas featured at re:Mars. The topic of robotics has been on my mind lately, as I read article after article on the current labor shortage and other issues such as the declining birth rates in Japan and other countries. Something must fill the gap, and I believe robotics will almost certainly be part of the solution. I'm very curious about what will change in work and society as we incorporate robotics more and more into our lives.
In the workforce, robotics holds a lot of potential for both highly routine and monotonous tasks and those that are unsafe for human workers—especially when combined with machine learning. As an example, Sivasubramanian highlighted robotic implementation in Amazon fulfillment centers. Amazon has a robotic arm called Robin that the company has trained to pick up packages from conveyor belt areas based on shape and size. It then places the packages on a vehicle called Drive, which transports the packages to the loading dock.
While robotic arms are not a new concept, Sivasubramanian pointed out that very few companies are utilizing them in production daily at the scale Amazon is doing. Thornton elaborated that re:Mars aims to provide the audience a link between future technology and actual product integrations—what's already out there and how to start bringing it into their daily operations.
Next, we discussed the "final frontier" of the re:Mars conference—Space. We should hear a lot more about Project Kuiper—Amazon's low Earth orbit satellite constellation—at the event and the sorts of applications it will enable. For one, Internet and connectivity stand to benefit significantly from Kuiper, allowing underserved or hard-to-reach populations access to the fabric of our modern society. Additionally, Sivasubramanian says Kuiper will transform modern manufacturing, automotive, transportation, agriculture and more.
He mentioned AWS Ground Station, a fully managed service that gives customers the ability to control their satellite communications, process data and scale up operations without having to build their own satellite ground station infrastructure. According to AWS, users gain direct access to AWS services and global infrastructure, including a low-latency global fiber network. Like many managed services, subscribers only pay for what they use—in the case of Ground Station, "antenna time."
He also referenced AWS customer Capella Space, which uses AWS's image processing and other ML technologies to observe various Earth activities from space (such as deforestation, volcanic activity, etc.). In general, I've been very intrigued by low Earth orbit satellites, the high-resolution images they've been taking, and their potential to supply us with actionable insights and a common source for truth (e.g., what's going on in the supply chain, where to plant certain crops, troop movements in the ongoing Russian assault on Ukraine). When paired with machine learning algorithms, there are many potential applications.
I concluded my interview with Sivasubramanian and Thornton by asking what they were most looking forward to at re:Mars. Sivasubramanian looks forward to delivering his keynote on how ML and AI are already transforming lives and businesses daily. Thornton said she is looking forward to the tech showcase and demonstrations such as Spot, a robotic dog, and BattleBots (yes, from the TV show).
Evident in our conversation was how interconnected these four topics—ML, AI, robotics and space—really are. Advances in any of these areas are likely to influence and enhance the others. In other words, these subjects AWS didn't throw them together to get four buzz-worthy topics in the same conference—it makes a lot of sense to discuss them in conjunction with each other. If you're an engineer, developer, product person, researcher, educator or even just a layperson enthusiast in machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics or space, re:Mars (June 21-24) is the event for you. I'll see you there!
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.