Amazon CTO Dr Werner Vogels on how AI can be used for good
Now Reading
‘AI can serve the greater good’, says Amazon CTO Dr Werner Vogels

‘AI can serve the greater good’, says Amazon CTO Dr Werner Vogels

Dr Vogels shares his optimism on how AI can be empowered to uplift economies, businesses and communities

Neesha Salian
'AI can serve the greater good', says Amazon CTO Dr Werner Vogels Image Supplied

Dr Werner Vogels, chief technology officer of Amazon, is responsible for driving the company’s customer-centric technology vision. He is also a big believer in the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to serve the greater good.

Vogels recently spoke at the World Government Summit (WGS) on the potential of AI and its impact. During his visit, he spoke to Gulf Business on the importance of democratising AI and how Amazon Web Services (AWS) is supporting companies to scale their operations.

You addressed government and industry heads at the recent WGS on the impact of AI. Tell us more about it.

At WGS, I highlighted the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on society. As an engineer, I emphasised the practical applications of AI, particularly in everyday technologies like those used by Amazon for the past 25 years, such as recommendation systems and fraud detection. While AI has become ubiquitous, its recent advancements, especially in generative AI, have opened new possibilities. However, I believe we shouldn’t overlook the importance of educating the public about these technologies, as rapid advancements can lead to misunderstandings.

Furthermore, I underscored the significance of quality data in AI development and the need for publicly available datasets to ensure fairness and accuracy. AI models trained on diverse datasets yield more relevant and unbiased outcomes.

It’s important to note that AI can prove to be an ‘efficient’ assistant rather than a replacement in fields such as healthcare, where it enhances professionals’ capabilities rather than supplanting them. The possibilities are endless as AI can also be leveraged to address pressing global challenges such as food security and climate change.

What are the areas that AI can impact because of bad actors or bias?

The risks associated with AI, particularly concerning bias, are paramount considerations in the current technological landscape. One of the primary concerns is the misuse of AI by malicious actors, whether they be state-sponsored entities, criminal organisations, or individuals with ill intent. The capabilities of technology are inherently neutral; it is the intentions and actions of those wielding it that determine its impact. We’ve witnessed throughout history how advancements such as steel have been utilised for both destructive and beneficial purposes.

Currently, one of the most significant risks lies in the lack of widespread education about the capabilities and limitations of AI among the public, regulators, and governments. Many are unaware of the nuances and intricacies of AI systems, including their propensity to generate realistic but false information or ‘hallucinations’. These systems may not acknowledge uncertainty and can inadvertently produce misleading results. As such, it remains imperative for humans to exercise critical thinking and discernment in decision-making processes.

Failure to adequately educate stakeholders may lead to knee-jerk regulatory responses that hinder technological progress rather than fostering its beneficial applications. To avoid widening the gap between technologically advanced regions and the rest of the world, it’s essential to ensure equitable access to AI technologies.

The introduction of open-sourcing AI models, as observed in the Gulf region with Abu Dhabi-based Technology Innovation Institute’s Falcon large language model, is a crucial step toward democratising access to AI tools.

By promoting transparency, collaboration and inclusivity in AI development and deployment, we can harness its potential to uplift economies, address societal challenges and advance sustainable development goals worldwide.

How do you see AI impacting different industries?

I see tremendous potential in the realm of women’s healthcare. Historically, this has been an underfunded and overlooked area, but recent developments suggest that change is on the horizon. With a growing focus on female-specific health issues, such as menopause and reproductive health, we’re witnessing a surge in funding and innovation. AI has the potential to revolutionise healthcare by unlocking insights and accelerating discoveries that were previously unimaginable.

AI can analyse vast amounts of data to identify patterns and potential treatment avenues that may have been overlooked by human researchers. By simulating how molecules interact and understanding the subtle changes at the molecular or DNA level, AI can uncover new opportunities for drug development and personalised medicine.

Certainly, AI holds tremendous potential for elevating education, especially in the context of addressing the needs of immigrants and refugees.

In countries like Germany, where large numbers of immigrants are seeking to integrate into the workforce, AI-powered education initiatives such as those offered by ReDI School are proving to be transformative. By leveraging AI algorithms to personalise learning pathways and adapt instruction to individual learning styles and language abilities, these initiatives are empowering immigrants to quickly gain the skills needed for employment in high-demand fields like IT.

Moreover, natural language interfaces and low-code development platforms are lowering barriers to entry, enabling anyone with an idea to create and deploy applications with minimal technical expertise.

At Amazon, we’re deeply committed to fostering a culture of innovation and customer-centricity. Whether it’s through our self-publishing platform for authors or our cloud computing services for businesses, we strive to empower individuals and organisations to pursue their dreams.

Tell us how AWS is supporting the growth of companies in the region.

When considering the impact of AWS in the UAE and the broader Middle East region, it’s essential to highlight our collaborations with both public and private sector entities.

For instance, we work closely with government agencies to enhance the quality and efficiency of public services, contributing to the region’s overall development. Moreover, the hospitality industry, a significant contributor to the region’s economy, has benefited from AWS solutions.

Partnering with renowned entities such as Emirates Airlines, we’ve embarked on innovative projects aimed at improving operational efficiency and customer experience. For example, Emirates has leveraged AWS technology, including VR headsets, to revolutionise employee training.

By decentralising training programmes and delivering immersive experiences, Emirates ensures consistent service quality across its global operations.

Collaborations with organisations such as Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority demonstrate our commitment to fostering innovation and sustainability in these critical sectors. Through strategic agreements and joint projects, we empower organisations to leverage advanced technologies and drive positive change and digital transformation in their respective industries.

Furthermore, we haven’t forgotten our roots, starting as a small company ourselves. We provide comprehensive support to startups and young businesses in the region, helping them navigate the complexities of cloud computing and data management. By offering grants, technical assistance, and guidance on cost optimisation and security best practices, we enable startups to scale and thrive in a competitive market environment.

Overall, AWS’ presence in the region extends beyond providing technology solutions. We are actively involved in consulting, training and capacity building, ensuring that organisations harness the full potential of cloud computing while adhering to best practices in data security and compliance.

Tell us about AWS’ focus on sustainability.

When it comes to sustainability, especially in the context of data centres, Amazon Web Services is deeply committed to driving positive change. The rise of cloud computing has not only revolutionised technology but also transformed the economic model behind it. In the past, businesses had to make substantial upfront investments to access technology, often overestimating their needs to drive costs down.

However, with AWS, we’ve shifted to a pay-as-you-go model, aligning with natural consumption patterns and enabling customers to pay only for the resources they use.

Our focus on sustainability extends to our data centres, where we’ve made significant investments in innovation.

By implementing cutting-edge technologies and optimising energy usage, we’ve been able to reduce energy costs by up to 30 per cent. This not only translates to cost savings for our customers but also reflects a commitment to minimising their carbon footprint. We provide detailed insights into energy consumption, empowering customers to make informed choices and reduce their environmental impact.

Moreover, we’re dedicated to transitioning to renewable energy sources by 2025. Currently, we have more than 500 renewable energy projects worldwide, including solar and wind initiatives.

By investing in renewable energy infrastructure, we’re not only reducing our environmental footprint but also contributing to a more sustainable future for communities worldwide. In addition, we prioritise community engagement and collaboration. For example, in Dublin, our data centre serves a dual purpose by repurposing excess heat to warm nearby facilities.

We partner with local institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to leverage technology for social good and promote education in technology.

Furthermore, initiatives such as AWS Think Big Spaces provide opportunities for young learners to explore technology’s role in society and inspire future innovation.

Tell us about AWS’ approach to security.

Security is paramount in every aspect of our operations at AWS. With millions of companies relying on our platform, we understand the critical importance of safeguarding our customers’ data and infrastructure. From day one, we’ve been under intense scrutiny, given our close association with

However, we recognise that security is not a static concept; it’s a continuous journey that requires relentless innovation and vigilance. One of the primary reasons that enterprises are increasingly moving to the cloud is because they recognise the unparalleled level of security that AWS provides.

With a dedicated team of experts and security tools, we offer a level of protection that organisations often cannot achieve on their own. Our investments in innovative security products and services enable us to address emerging threats effectively.

Finally, how do you manage what you do as CTO?

Managing a diverse array of products, services and goals while maintaining a hectic travel schedule has its challenges, but it’s all about finding a balance and staying focused on what truly matters. The secret, if there is one, lies in a few key principles that guide my approach to work and life.

First and foremost, I prioritise understanding the needs and challenges of our customers. Whether it’s developing innovative solutions internally or providing services to external clients, my role revolves around ensuring that our technology meets the evolving demands of the market. This entails actively listening to customer feedback, identifying common pain points, and leveraging our technological expertise to address them effectively.

However, it’s not just about reacting to customer demands; it’s also about anticipating future needs and staying ahead of the curve. This requires a continuous commitment to learning and innovation, staying informed about emerging technologies and industry trends, and fostering a culture of experimentation and adaptation within the organisation.

I make it a point to remain engaged and informed, whether it’s through regular communication with engineering teams or dedicating time to explore new technologies and concepts.

Moreover, I recognise the importance of taking regular breaks to recharge and refocus. Setting aside dedicated time each week for personal reflection and learning allows me to maintain clarity of thought and perspective through my busy schedule.

You might also like


Scroll To Top