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Tech for Good: Amazon’s Influence

Tom Sullivan

May 9, 2017
Tom Sullivan

I arrived in Seattle on Friday for the birthday celebration of my grandson, Noah, who just turned three.  Not soon after we arrived, Felix, Noah’s five-year-old brother, wanted to show me Alexa.  I first asked, testing him, “What is Alexa?”

Felix immediately responded that Alexa is a device that gives him information.  He retrieves Alexa (actually the Echo disk which gives Alexa her power to communicate) from his mom’s room and then proceeds to tell me about where Alexa came from: Amazon.

“What is Amazon?”  I ask.

Felix responds without missing a beat: “Amazon is an American electronic commerce and cloud computing company that was founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos.  It is based in Seattle, Washington.”

I marveled and asked, “How did you know that, Felix?”  He then demonstrates by asking Alexa: “What is Amazon?”  Alexa replies with nearly the identical Wikipedia opening description about Amazon that Felix just recited to me.

Felix proceeds to show me how Alexa works.  He asked Alexa to play songs.  He asked Alexa about the weather.  He asked Alexa to tell a joke – which it obliged.   It was clear that Felix and Alex where very acquainted with each other.  Here’s the kicker.  He then asks Alexa to show him his shopping list of top one hundred items. Alexa calls up Felix’s list and reads them in groups of ten.  The list was typical for a five-year-old boy with things listed like “poopy diapers” which he got a big kick out of. Alexa asks Felix if he wants to revise his list.  Felix proceeds to make the revisions.  It was entertaining to him and amazing to me.

A few days later, we are in downtown Seattle for a day at the Pacific Science Center.  Not far from there a group of new skyscrapers are going up. My son-in-law, Chris, explains that much of this is being developed by Amazon for its burgeoning workforce and for the scores of small companies that support Amazon.  In fact, Amazon’s workforce will occupy 40 buildings within five years.  Not surprising is the population growth in Seattle and its surrounding counties: almost 2,000 people per week.  Amazon and the burgeoning tech industry are driving this growth.

Later, as we drive home, we pass an old hospital building.  I commented to Chris that it looked like a relic of the past and needed to be torn down to match the rest of growing Seattle.  He explained that the building was Amazon’s first corporate headquarters and that a new health system is occupying and renovating the campus.  I make the connection. New health systems follow growing populations and prosperous economies.  Prosperous economies grow out of successful and growing companies.  And successful growing companies led by visionary and effective leaders create wealth.

Here’s two things I know for sure.  First, Alexa has already converted a five-year old boy into a fan ready to shop by voice.  This is a customer brand experience that is only getting better with Amazon’s brilliant, data-driven technology.  Second, Amazon’s booming success, as reflected in Seattle’s community, has the potential to effect change beyond creating an incredible experience for consumers. Similar to the positive impact brought about by The Gates Foundation, The Bezos Family Foundation is devoting its resources and harnessing its influence for good.  It’s vision is that all young people will be prepared to achieve their full potential and make a meaningful contribution to society. I support that vision on behalf of Felix and Noah and all children everywhere.