Inside Jeff Bezos’s failed attempt to make Amazon ‘cool’ like Apple and Nike
interviews bezos amazonwilson fastcompany ared Ficklin was part of a secret team at a prominent design firm tapped with helping design and develop a watershed device from Amazon, the Fire Phone. The Fire Phone was going to be Amazon’s arrival in the design world. The Kindle was a breakthrough e-book reader, sure. But it was too utilitarian to be an object of desire, the sort of budget device you’d expect from a budget retailer. Developing a premium smartphone could ascend Amazon to the rare air of Apple, transforming it into a company that could make covetable things. This was important to Jeff Bezos. As he said in an early memo, he wanted Amazon to be like Apple or Nike, “loved” by customers and perceived as “cool.”
“Risk taking is cool. Thinking big is cool. The unexpected is cool,” he wrote then.
Ficklin worked for months under clandestine conditions he had never experienced before: inside a faraday cage, or an electrified room, with walls that blocked wireless signals. This level of security ensured no wireless signals could go in or out to leak information on the product. Eight perfectly clean human bodies, working on laptops that were required to stay in that room over the course of months, eventually permeated the space with an unavoidable biological odor. When his team visited Amazon’s Seattle offices, they were banned from taking Ubers, which could theoretically be tracked, or even from entering the building through the same entrance, lest an eagle-eyed reporter notice.
Ficklin was never in a meeting with Bezos himself, but he got feedback—notably that the screen needed to be 3D, and more 3D, with layers of graphics and animations that popped out from the screen. That was illogical to Ficklin and most other designers who were focused on user experience. After all, even a library stacks its books in clean, flat rows for a reason. But the team allocated tremendous amounts of the phone’s processing resources to triangulating the position of a user’s face to the screen, to create a parallax effect. It was an absurd investment for a single, superficial feature with no tangible user benefit.
“We started calling this the Jeff Phone; we felt we were basically making a phone for Jeff Bezos,” Ficklin says with a laugh. “We were slowly designing a phone for billionaire tech company owners. But at the time there were three of those, and two [Tim Cook and Bill Gates] already had their own phone. It was like, who is this phone being marketed to?”
The Fire Phone flopped, in large part due to Bezos’s strategic error in over-indexing on one “cool” feature. To this day, Amazon design is rarely mentioned in the same breath as beloved companies like Apple and Nike, or even fellow technological giants Google, Microsoft, and Samsung.
The Fire Phone illustrated that while Bezos is an open-minded and often instinctual thinker—many designers tell us they genuinely enjoyed working with him—he didn’t turn Amazon into a company that puts design first and places value on the insights and skepticism of designers. That’s important, because design-led companies consistently beat the industry standard, growing revenue faster and offering more returns to shareholders. In one study, design-led companies outperformed the S&P Index by 219% between 2004 and 2014. A major part of design’s value proposition is the process. Designers identify problems to create solutions.
Amazon, on the other hand, has often identified solutions before naming the problem. Sometimes that approach worked. But often, it didn’t. And it created an ecosystem with a surprising number of hidden costs. “Amazon will never be a design-led company. It’s evident in the quality of the products they ship. And although the design is still thriving there, I don’t believe it’s fundamental to the core DNA of the company,” says a former Amazon designer who worked closely with Bezos on several products. “Just because there’s ‘customer obsession’ doesn’t mean there’s an investment in quality and design rigor.”
Silicon Valley is fascists free
Mischaracterizing those who work in technology as secretive conservatives is both inaccurate and counterproductive.
A reporter for the New York Times decided to publish a piece revealing Scott Siskind’s real name, prompting him to delete his entire blog, Slate Star Codex, in the summer of 2020. (Siskind, who now writes at Astral Codex Ten, had long blogged under the pseudonym of Scott Alexander). Eight months later, the story has been published, and it’s just as bad as Siskind anticipated it would be. The article’s most concerning aspects, in my opinion, are the unwarranted generalisations it makes regarding Slate Star Codex readers and the ethos of the technology business. To put it frankly, I think the piece reinforces an inaccurate generalisation about the political leanings of Silicon Valley’s population. And I don’t think it’s helpful for America’s relationship with one of its signature sectors to perpetuate this misperception.
Who were the people who read Slate Star Codex?
Cade Metz, the writer of the Times piece, had this to say about the people who read Slate Star Codex:
The Rationalists, who called [Slate Star Codex] home, were an intellectual movement that sought to reevaluate the world using reason and logic. White nationalists and neofascists were among those who spoke up. According to [economic David] Friedman, “social justice warriors” are the only ones who have to fight to be heard. The minds of Silicon Valley were revealed in Slate Star Codex. It’s important to try to get into their heads since the choices made by tech businesses and their executives have far-reaching consequences. Mr. Alexander, who had previously written under his given name, Scott Siskind, and his blog became required reading due to the attractiveness of the concepts within Silicon Valley.
According to [Sam Altman], it was required reading for “the people inventing the future” in the IT field. Paul Graham, creator of Y Combinator, lent his name to the Slate Star Codex as an advocate. Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe, a start-up that went on to raise a billion dollars, read it. Investors like Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz were among the blog’s Twitter followers. This makes for an interesting story: the technologists who are creating our future have been indoctrinated with right-wing ideologies after reading a popular blog. The problem is that I don’t think the article provides enough evidence to back up the claims it makes.
If we take Silicon Valley as an example, is it true that the Slate Star Codex was formerly considered “required reading”? According to Google, there are around 387,000 tech professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area. A Reddit user in 2016 estimated that the site had 3,400 regular readers, whereas Siskind’s survey of his subscribers in 2020 received around 8,000 responses. The Times received about 7,500 signatures on a petition asking them to keep Siskind’s identity secret.
This means that even if Slate Star Codex’s regular readership was four times as great as the largest of these percentages, it still would have meant that no more than 8.3 percent of Silicon Valley, or an even smaller percentage of the broader national tech industry, could have consistently read the site. Not all of Siskind’s readers were necessarily tech-savvy, by the way. Actually, the opposite is true. Around 40% of Siskind’s 2020 survey respondents worked in the computer industry: This suggests that a disproportionate number of Slate Star Codex’s readers actually work in the tech industry. However try to avoid generalisations (or as, a Rationalist would call it, base rate neglect, or the Representativeness Heuristic). The fact that 40% of Slate Star Codex readers identified as “techies” does NOT imply that the same percentage of “techies” also read the Slate Star Codex.
That is to say, Slate Star Codex was probably just a small part of the overall technology business. Was this subset disproportionately influential, rich, or well-off? Sam Altman and Paul Graham, two heavy hitters at the YCombinator accelerator, were undoubtedly huge fans. It was likely just one of Patrick Collison’s many, many sources of intriguing occasional information; he once dubbed me “more logical than the Rationalists” (thanks, Patrick!!). I’ve also met a fair amount of VCs, and to my knowledge, none of them have ever used any of the lingo from the Slate Star Codex. So while it’s possible that many prominent figures in technology were influenced by Slate Star Codex, I think we need a lot more proof before drawing any firm conclusions.
How political is Silicon Valley?
The idea that Nazis are abundant in Silicon Valley is a persistent source of annoyance for me, and I believe that Metz’s Times report contributes to this idea. The truth is that the tech industry is dominated by leftists. Crowd Pac conducted a poll of political donors in 2014, and their responses were organized by sector. After academics and the entertainment business, the “online computer services” sector (Silicon Valley) was the third most liberal. It was far more open-minded than traditional print media. On the right, there appears to be a solitary mass of conservatives. Among them are few more well-known conservatives like Peter Thiel. Nonetheless, they stand out as radicals in a traditionally liberal field. This sample is likely to be skewed towards the wealthy because these are donors, not voters.
This is supported by data from elsewhere. OpenSecrets.org reports that in 2020, 92% of internet industry donations went to Democrats. This is supported by surveys of IT startup founders. Silicon Valley founders are overwhelmingly Democrats, despite being more skeptical of regulation and unions than the average Democrat (which is to be expected, given their occupations). They are even more progressive on social issues (gay marriage, abortion, gun control, etc.) than the typical college-educated Democrat. Despite the fact that it seems to go against their class interests, they are nevertheless big supporters of government redistribution. They also rank lower on measures of authoritarianism and racial hostility than the typical Democratic voter base. To sum up, tech startup founders are your typical liberal nerds.
Everyone who has any kind of regular contact with those working in the tech industry is already well aware of this. Black Lives Matter protests had widespread support from the tech industry and its top executives. After the failed coup attempt on January 6th, they also effectively blocked former President Trump and many of his core supporters from using the internet. In addition, employees in the computer industry are continually pressuring their managers to become even more liberal than they already are. No fascists will feel comfortable here. As a technology correspondent, Metz should be well-versed on this information. Thus, he should understand that a decade after the publication of Slate Star Codex, technology has not become fascist. Hence, the narrative appeal of a solitary Rationalist site quietly spreading right-wing beliefs among Silicon Valley’s princes has not yet been borne out by the evidence
If Silicon Valley as a whole isn’t right-wing, then what about the Rationalists?
My evidence here is entirely anecdotal. In general, I get the impression that they are on the periphery of the technology sector. Siskind practices psychiatry as a profession. Only big Rationalist I directly know, Julia Galef, is a podcaster. I was able to identify a quant trader, a lawyer, a Wall Street analyst, the founder of a nonprofit, a social worker, a language interpreter, and several people whose only apparent job is working in the Effective Altruism movement, in addition to the philosopher Will MacAskill, who is one of the movement’s leaders. In fact, Eliezer Yudkowsky, who is sort of an A.I. researcher, is the only big Rationalist figure I could locate who is actually in tech.
The Rationalists appear to be on the fence about certain key political issues. The proponents of Effective Altruism seem to be liberals (Update: Matt Yglesias has a great post that goes into some of what they want). Both Yudkowsky and Galef, at heart, are uninvolved, moderate types. And Siskind, though he’d probably be angry with me for saying this, seems to be a conservative, or whatever passes for a conservative in this odd new period of politics. His criticism of Black Lives Matter and (particularly) the feminist movement places him on the political right in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Update: and as others have noted, he is not coy about holding some right-wing beliefs in private.) IQ, school vouchers, and the employment of women are just a few of the topics on which we’ve disagreed in the past. The Rationalists don’t strike me as particularly political, though. Instead, they appear preoccupied with their own brand of arcane lore. Some Rationalists are upset with me because I sometimes find this esoterica to be quite silly. Such is life. My impression of Rationalism is not that it is a fascist or secretly fascist movement, despite what I would call Siskind’s conservatism.
In regards to the Nazis who frequent Scott’s comment section, I believe he should have banned them a long time ago. However, I haven’t seen any proof that Nazi ideas have taken hold among the Rationalists, and I haven’t seen any proof that Rationalist ideas have had more than a very small influence on the technological world either.
To sum up, the story of a conspiracy to infiltrate the minds of the future’s most influential people with fascist ideas spread through Rationalist blogs is enticing, but it’s not well supported by the facts. Tech entrepreneurs are your typical liberal nerds, and Rationalism is just a small subculture that obsesses over Bayes’ Rule, utilitarianism, and robots. While I agree that the tech industry could improve in some areas, I do not believe this to be one of them.
covid19 stmicroelectronics malaysia
covid19 stmicroelectronics malaysia The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has had a significant impact on the world’s economy and businesses. One major organization that has been affected is STMicroelectronics (ST). This article will discuss the changes that ST has made in Malaysia due to the pandemic. It will look at how the company has reacted to the crisis, what strategies they have implemented in response, and how it affects employees of their Malaysian branch. covid19 stmicroelectronics malaysia
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies across the world, and Malaysia is no exception. As a result, many companies have had to make difficult decisions to help protect their employees and finances. This article takes an in-depth look at how the semiconductor manufacturer STMicroelectronics Malaysia has been affected by COVID-19 and the measures they are taking to mitigate its impact. covid19 stmicroelectronics malaysia
The Covid-19 pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge to the global economy, with many companies struggling to remain afloat. One of those companies is STMicroelectronics Malaysia, a semiconductor company that is headquartered in Europe. With its commitment to digital transformation and innovation, the company has been able to navigate through the crisis, even as other firms have had to shut down or layoff employees. covid19 stmicroelectronics malaysia
microsoftled retracts disputed quantumcomputing paper
microsoftled team disputed quantumcomputing In a surprising turn of events, Microsoftled has retracted the paper it recently published on quantum computing. The research paper had been widely discussed in the scientific community due to its groundbreaking claims and potential implications for the future of quantum computing. However, subsequent investigations into the paper revealed discrepancies that led Microsoftled to retract their work, meaning that all results must be disregarded. This news has left many in the scientific world feeling confused and frustrated about this unexpected development. microsoftled retracts disputed quantumcomputing paper
In a surprising turn of events, Microsoftled researchers have announced the retraction of their recently published paper on quantum computing. The retraction comes after months of dispute and criticism over numerous elements of the paper, raising questions about the validity of the research. Microsoftled published the paper in December 2019 to great fanfare and excitement, touting the potential advances it could bring to quantum computing. However, several other researchers quickly called into question its scientific accuracy and validity. microsoftled retracts disputed quantumcomputing paper
Microsoftled has recently come under fire for a paper they published regarding a breakthrough in quantum computing. The paper, which claimed to have made immense strides towards high-performance quantum computing, has now been retracted due to criticisms from the research community. This article will explain why Microsoftled retracted their paper and what this means for the future of quantum computing. Many researchers were concerned with the validity of Microsoftled’s claims and questioned how it could have achieved such successful results without proper testing or verification methods.
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