Amazon CTO, Werner Vogels talks Sustainability, Climate Change and more

We’re incredibly excited that Dr. Werner Vogels, Chief Technology Officer at Amazon will be joining CogX 2021 to speak about how machine learning (ML) is fundamentally changing the world around us. Ahead of this exciting talk, we sat down with Dr. Vogels for an exclusive interview. Find out if the tech keeping us afloat during the pandemic is here to stay, why we should be excited about sustainability, and discover how high-performance computing, IoT sensors, and satellites are powering the next ten years.


Q: Share something that our audience would be surprised to learn about you (something not in your bio)

A: Well, before I started a career in computer science, I first served in the Royal Netherlands Navy and then worked in radiology at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoekziekenhuis, a hospital in Amsterdam affiliated with the Netherlands Cancer Institute. These experiences were eye-opening to several of the hard human problems that society faces and the role technology can play in helping to solve them, and it was with that mindset that I launched into computer science with all of the excitement that entailed in the 1980s. What I bring from this past into my current role at AWS is a deep care for our customers and the wide variety of ways we have to connect with them.


Q: What do you think is the greatest challenge we face in the next ten years?

A: We’re already facing a number of challenges related to sustainable food and water supplies for a global population, and these will only become exacerbated as the climate continues to change. The immediate impact on human health and wellbeing is obvious, but potential second and third order effects such as geopolitical instability and further environmental harm are just as critical. We need to harness technology to provide for humans’ basic needs without depleting the planet


Q3: Equally, what is the greatest opportunity for us in the next ten years?

A3: We’re extremely fortunate that the power of our technology continues to evolve in parallel with the scale of our sustainability challenges. We have the computing power now to model complex systems like ocean currents, weather, and forest health with a high degree of fidelity and better understand how our actions can impact those systems. We can also use technologies like satellites and IoT sensors to get a detailed, real-time view of conditions such as soil moisture, plant health, and so on so that we can optimize how we apply resources for food production. 


Q: Have you found any silver linings from the pandemic?

A: Modern technology blunted some of the worst impacts of the pandemic on our day-to-day lives in ways that wouldn’t have been imaginable even 15 years ago. First of all, while the human toll has been horrific, researchers were able to use high-performance computing and automation to speed development of multiple vaccines on an unprecedented timeline, and now people are being vaccinated only a year after the pandemic began. Second, when you look at the widespread use of remote learning, on-demand food and grocery delivery, video conferencing, remote desktops, and so on, society has remained highly functional while people stayed as safe as possible. I think many of the changes from the past year in how we work, learn, and carry out day-to-day tasks will be quite long lasting and will expand opportunities for people to thrive no matter where they live.     

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