MIT Emerging Technology Conference – Amazon Web Services

MIT Emerging Technology Conference – Amazon Web ServicesAs they say in Hollywood, “that’s a wrap”. The MIT Technology Review Emerging Technology Conference is over and let me one the the nth to say that it was terrific. (Let me also say that I am glad they abbreviate Massachusetts Institute of Technology as MIT otherwise that sentence would have the word “technology” in it three times.) Here are few of the highlights of the event.

Wednesday morning – Kresge is pretty full and I am pretty tired following Tuesday’s trip to Chicago. I am in jeans and a sports coat and wonder if I am under dressed. Tomorrow I’ll wear something fancy. Of course I’ll bet that all of the people wearing suits today will have seen me and decided that they are over dressed and will come tomorrow in jeans.

The last time I was at the Kresge was in 1986 or 87 for the Hai Ba Trung festival. Still looks pretty much the same.

Jeff Bezos got things started by explaining Amazon’s Web infrastructure services. This is a cool thing. Basically, behind the scenes at Amazon there’s all kinds of technology at work (go figure) – data centers, data warehouses, load balancing, security, you name it. Somewhere along the line, someone came up with the idea of making some of that back end technology visible to external developers.

There were three services that were described in detail:

Simple Storage Service (S3) – this is pay-as-you-use storage in the sky. It allows you to do three things: put, get and delete. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. It’s secure enough, and reliable enough, that people are building businesses on it. SmugMug, a photo sharing service is one example.

Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) – basically this is a virtual server that’s available when you need it, at the scale you need and at a cost that makes available to anyone with a good idea (10 cents per CPU per hour). It’s also clever enough to scale up and down depending on the load. It reminded me of Virtual Iron; but without having to lay down the big iron for real hardware.

The last of the three (well, actually it was the first he presented) is . . .

Mechanical Turk – artificial artificial intelligence is how Jeff described this; imagine this – you sell velvet paintings online. Your catalog of paintings now numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Managing all the content can get pretty tricky – just how different are the dogs playing pool vs. the dogs playing billiards anyway. Now you might have some really smart software to manage this whole thing but it’s possible that it won’t be able to relize that the pictures are in fact the same. So what do you do? Enter Mechanical Turk. Once an application is pretty sure it has two of the same thing on its hands, it asks an expert to make sure. And who is the expert? A human. Mechanical Turk allows you to code a human into a software application.

These services – and others like them – take the cost (or at least much of the cost) out of the business creation process. But it isn’t just cost, it is also a lot of the headaches and obstacles of creating a business that don’t have anything to do with the initial idea. The Amazon Web Services that were presented are intended to reduce and remove those headaches and obstacles.

It was pretty cool stuff. More info is at

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