A New Union or Just a Let’s Have Lunch Moment for Two Tech Giants

November 10, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

There is nothing like titans of technology and revenue generation discovering a common interest. The thrill is the consummation and reaping the subsequent rewards. “Meta Lets Amazon Shoppers Buy Products on Facebook and Instagram without Leaving the Apps” explains:

Meta doesn’t want you to leave its popular mobile apps when making that impulse Amazon purchase. The company debuted a new feature allowing users to link their Facebook and Instagram accounts to Amazon so they can buy goods by clicking on promotions in their feeds.

11 10 23 hugging bros

Two amped up, big time tech bros discover that each has something the other wants. What is that? An opportunity to extend and exploit perhaps? Thanks, Microsoft Bing, you do get the drift of my text prompt, don’t you?

The Zuckbook’s properties touch billions of people. Some of those people want to buy “stuff.” Legitimate stuff has required the user to click away and navigate to the online bookstore to purchase a copy of the complete works of Francis Bacon. Now, the Instagram user can buy without leaving the comforting arms of the Zuck.

Does anyone have a problem with that tie up? I don’t. It is definitely a benefit for the teen who must have the latest lip gloss. It is good for Amazon because the hope is that Zucksters will buy from the online bookstore. The Meta outfit probably benefits with some sort of inducement. Maybe it is just a hug from Amazon executives? Maybe it is an opportunity to mud wrestle with Mr. Bezos if he decides to get down and dirty to show his physical prowess?

Will US regulators care? Will EU regulators care? Will anyone care?

I am not sure how to answer these questions. For decades the high tech outfits have been able to emulate the captains of industry in the golden age without much cause for concern. Continuity is good.

Will teens buy copies of Novum Organum? Absolutely.

Stephen E Arnold, November 10, 2023

Amazon: Numerical Recipes Poison Good Deals

November 8, 2023

Dinobaby here. I read “FTC Alleges Amazon Used a Price-Gouging Algorithm.” The allegations in the article are likely to ruffle some legal eagles wearing Amazon merchandise. The main idea is that a numerical recipe named after the dinobaby’s avatar manipulated prices to generate more revenue for the Bezos bulldozer. This is a bulldozer relocating to Miami too. Miami says, “Buenos días.” Engadget says:

Amazon faces allegations from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of wielding price-gouging algorithms through an operation called “Project Nessie” according to court documents filed Thursday. The FTC says the algorithm has generated more than $1 billion in excess profit for Jeff Bezos’s e-commerce giant.

Let’s assume the allegations contain a dinosaur scale or two of truth. What could one living in rural Kentucky conclude? How about these notions:

  • Amazon knows how to use fancy math in a way that advantages itself. Imagine the earning power of manipulated algorithms powered by smart software in the hands of engineers eager to earn a bonus, a promotion, and maybe a ride in a rocket ship from the fountain head of the online bookstore. Yep, just imagine.
  • Amazon got caught. If the justice system prevails, will shoppers avoid Anazon?l lNope, in my opinion. There are more Amazon delivery vehicles in the area where I live in nowhere Kentucky than on the main highway. Convenience wins. So what if the pricing is wonky. Couch potatoes like couches, not driving 30 minutes to a so-called store. Laws just may not matter when it comes to big tech outfits.
  • Other companies may learn from Amazon. The estimable CocaCola machines in some whiz kids’ dreams learns what a person likes and prices accordingly. That innovation may become a reality as some bright sparks invent the future of billing as much as possible and hamstringing competitors. Nice work, if Amazon does have the alleged money machine algorithms.

What is the future of retail? I would offer the opinion that trickery, mendacity, and cleverness will become the keys to success. I am glad I am an old dinobaby, but I like the name “Nessie.” My mama Dino had a friend named Nessie. Nice fangs and big quiet pads on her claws. Perfect for catching and killing prey.

Stephen E Arnold, November 7, 2023

Amazon: Great Products and Transparent Pricing Impress

October 24, 2023

green-dino_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

Free SaaS trials are supposed to demonstrate a software’s capabilities and benefits to convince the user to subscribe. Sometimes free trials require users to input their billing information. If users aren’t careful, they’re charged for the SaaS. Reddit user Mizcizi had a bad experience when he signed up for AWS, read his post, “1k Bill After 1 Month, For The Service I Didn’t Even Use.”

Mizcizi signed up for a free AWS trial to test its Web hosting. He tried AWS Amplify but didn’t like it. He still wanted to use AWS S3 for storage and everything was going well for a while then the problems started. First, the data couldn’t be verified, next the account was suspended. He ignored the issues because he used another storage service.

AWS via RDS then slapped him with a $1000 bill for 280.233 Hrs, 1,129.972 IOPS-Mo, and 150.663 GB-Mo. Here are more details:

“Now there are a few things wrong with this. At first, I don’t remember setting up any RDS service. I might have checked what it provides because I was also checking for a DB hosting at the time, so I’m not 100% about that. What I am 100% sure is that I never used RDS anywhere, so I don’t know where all their IOPS are coming from. One thing that also doesn’t make sense is the 280.233 Hrs resulting in 391.77 USD. In the free trial for RDS, it says that you get 750 free hours.”

Mizcizi is trying to work with AWS support. Because he’s a first time user they may probably wipe the bill. He could also cancel the payment through his credit card. Other comments offered suggestions like setting up bill notifications, opening a support case, and explaining how the charges racked up.

Many comments said that AWS allegedly overcharges some users and recommending services for novice tech developers. Then the invoice arrives. Yipes.

Whitney Grace, October 24, 2023

Amazon Switches To AI Review Summaries

September 22, 2023

The online yard sale eBay offers an AI-generated description feature for sellers. Following in the same vein, Engadget reports that, “Amazon Begins Rolling Out AI-Generated Review Summaries” for products with clickable keywords. Amazon announced in June 2023 that it was testing an AI summary tool across a a range of products. The company officially launched the tool in August declaring that AI is at the heart of Amazon.

Amazon developed the AI summary tool so consumers can read buyers’ opinions without scrolling through pages of information. The summaries are described as a wrap-up of customer consensus akin to film blurbs on Rotten Tomatoes. The AI summaries contain clickable tags that showcase common words and consistent themes from reviews. Clicking on the tags will take consumers to the full review with the information.

AI-generated review summaries bring up another controversial topic: Amazon and fake reviews. Fake reviews litter the selling platform like a slew of counterfeit products Amazon, eBay, and other online selling platforms battle. While Amazon claims it takes a proactive stance to detect and delete the reviews, it does not catch all the fakes. It is speculated that AI-generated reviews from ChatGPT or other chatbots are harder for Amazon to catch.

In regards to using its own AI summary tool, Amazon plans to only use it on verified purchases and using more AI models to detect fake reviews. Humans will be used for clarification with their more discerning organic brains. Amazon said about its news tool:

“‘We continue to invest significant resources to proactively stop fake reviews,’ Amazon Community Shopping Director Vaughn Schermerhorn said. ‘This includes machine learning models that analyze thousands of data points to detect risk, including relations to other accounts, sign-in activity, review history, and other indications of unusual behavior, as well as expert investigators that use sophisticated fraud-detection tools to analyze and prevent fake reviews from ever appearing in our store. The new AI-generated review highlights use only our trusted review corpus from verified purchases, ensuring that customers can easily understand the community’s opinions at a glance.’”

AI tools are trained using language models that contain known qualitative errors. The same AI tools are used to teach more AI and so on. While we do not know what Amazon is using to train its AI summary tool, we would not be surprised if the fake reviews are using similar training models to Amazon’s. It will come down to Amazon AI vs. counterfeit AI. Who will win?

Whitney Grace, September 22, 2023

Amazon Offers AI-Powered Review Consolidation for Busy Shoppers

September 6, 2023

I read the reviews for a product. I bought the product. Reality was — how shall I frame it — different from the word pictures. Trust those reviews. ? Hmmm. So far, Amazon’s generative AI focus has been on supplying services to developers on its AWS platform. Now, reports ABC News, “Amazon Is Rolling Out a Generative AI Feature that Summarizes Product Reviews.” Writer Haleluya Hadero tells us:

“The feature, which the company began testing earlier this year, is designed to help shoppers determine at a glance what other customers said about a product before they spend time reading through individual reviews. It will pick out common themes and summarize them in a short paragraph on the product detail page.”

A few mobile shoppers have early access to the algorithmic summaries while Amazon tweaks the tool with user feedback. Eventually, the company said, shoppers will be able to surface common themes in reviews. Sounds nifty, but there is one problem: Consolidating reviews that are fake, generated by paid shills, or just plain wrong does nothing to improve their accuracy. But Amazon is more eager to jump on the AI bandwagon than to perform quality control on its reviews system. We learn:

“The Seattle-based company has been looking for ways to integrate more artificial intelligence into its product offerings as the generative AI race heats up among tech companies. Amazon hasn’t released its own high-profile AI chatbot or imaging tool. Instead, it’s been focusing on services that will allow developers to build their own generative AI tools on its cloud infrastructure AWS. Earlier this year, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said in his letter to shareholders that generative AI will be a ‘big deal’ for the company. He also said during an earnings call with investors last week that ‘every single one’ of Amazon’s businesses currently has multiple generative AI initiatives underway, including its devices unit, which works on products like the voice assistant Alexa.”

Perhaps one day Alexa will recite custom poetry or paint family portraits for us based on the eavesdropping she’s done over the years. Heartwarming. One day, sure.

Cynthia Murrell, September 19, 2023

Amazon, Arm, and Softbank: A Happy Coincidence Indeed

August 18, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

I try not to think about Amazon, Arm, and Softbank. Oh, let me add a footnote to the “Amazon” reference. When deliveries do not arrive or I am scammed, then I do think about Amazon. But most of the time, it is a digital discount store located in a low-rent district.

However, I noted an article about Amazon which caused me to wrinkle my already crinkly brow; specifically, ”Amazon Has More Than Half of All Arm Server CPUs in the World” uses a trigger word for me — “all.” But that is news headline writing today. The main assertion in the article is that Amazon with its multi-billion dollar server business has more Arm CPUs than Apple has three nanometer fabrication commitments. Why are these giant companies involved in “real news” which seems focused on stock amping than improving technology or privacy protections?

Then I remembered that Softbank, an outfit that is losing money on almost 70 percent of its investments, according to the Financial Times, wants to convert Arm into an initial public offering. I then wondered, “Is this confluence of seemingly disparate factoids a happy coincidence?”

My hunch is that somewhere, somehow, an inspired PR / SEO / or marketing professional thought it would be a good idea to pitch Softbank as a giant in the land of artificial intelligence. AI is hot; Softbank’s financials are, in my opinion, not so hot.

The question becomes, “How accurate is the information about these Arm chips?” and “Is the PR push part of an activity which I cannot discern?” And there is the “all”. How important is the Arm IPO dream if Amazon shifts to a different CPU? Good vibrations strike me as important for both Amazon and Softbank.

Stephen E Arnold, August 18, 2023

Amazon: Machine-Generated Content Adds to Overhead Costs

July 7, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]Note: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Amazon Has a Big Problem As AI-Generated Books Flood Kindle Unlimited” makes it clear that Amazon is going to have to re-think how it runs its self-publishing operation and figure out how to deal with machine-generated books from “respected” publishers.

The author of the article is expressing concern about ChatGPT-type outputs being assembled into electronic books. That concern is focused on Amazon and its ageing, arthritic Kindle eBook business. With voice to text tools, I suppose one should think about Audible audiobooks spit out by text-to-voice. The culprit, however, may be Amazon itself. Paying a person read a book for seven hours, not screw up, and making sure the sound is acceptable when the reader has a stuffed nose can be pricey.

7 4 baffled exec

A senior Amazon executive thinks to herself, “How can I fix this fake content stuff? I should really update my LinkedIn profile too.’ Will the lucky executive charged with fixing the problem identified in the article be allowed to eliminate revenue? Yep, get going on the LinkedIn profile first. Tackle the fake stuff later.

The write up points out:

the mass uploading of AI-generated books could be used to facilitate click-farming, where ‘bots’ click through a book automatically, generating royalties from Amazon Kindle Unlimited, which pays authors by the amount of pages that are read in an eBook.

And what’s Amazon doing about this quasi-fake content? The article reports:

It [Amazon] didn’t explicitly state that it was making an effort specifically to address the apparent spam-like persistent uploading of nonsensical and incoherent AI-generated books.

Then, the article raises the issues of “quality” and “authenticity.” I am not sure what these two glory words mean. My impression is that a machine-generated book is not as good as one crafted by a subject matter expert or motivated human author. If I am right, the editors at TechRadar are apparently oblivious to the idea of using XML structure content and a MarkLogic-type tool to slice-and-dice content. Then the components are assembled into a reference book. I want to point out that this method has been in use by professional publishers for a number of years. Because I signed a confidentiality agreement, I am not able to identify this outfit. But I still recall the buzz of excitement that rippled through one officer meeting at this outfit when those listening to a presentation realized [a] Humanoids could be terminated and a reduced staff could produce more books and [b] the guts of the technology was a database, a technology mostly understood by those with a few technical conferences under their belt. Yippy! No one had to learn anything. Just calculate the financial benefit of dumping humans and figuring out how to expense the contractors who could format content from a hovel in a Myanmar-type of low-cost location. At night, the executives dreamed about their bonuses for hitting their financial targets and how to start RIF’ing editorial staff, subject matter experts, and assorted specialists who doodled with front matter, footnotes, and fonts.

Net net: There is no fix. The write up illustrates the lack of understanding about how large sections of the information industry uses technology and the established procedures for dealing with cost-saving opportunity. Quality means more revenue from decisions. Authenticity is a marketing job. Amazon has a content problem and has to gear up its tools and business procedures to cope with machine-generated content whether in product reviews and eBooks.

Stephen E Arnold, July 7, 2023

Amazon AWS PR: A Signal from a Weakening Heart?

June 26, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]Note: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

I read “Amazon’s vision: An AI Model for Everything.” Readers of these essays know that I am uncomfortable with categorical affirmatives like “all”, “every”, and “everything.” The article in Semafor (does the word remind you of a traffic light in Lima, Peru?) is an interview with a vice president of Amazon Web Services. AWS is part of the online bookstore and digital flea market available at Amazon.com. The write up asserts that AWS will offer an “AI model for everything.” Everything? That’s a modest claim for a fast moving and rapidly changing suite of technologies.

Amazon executives — unlike some high-technology firms’ professionals — are usually less visible. But here is Matt Wood, the VP of AWS, explaining the digital flea market’s approach to smart software manifested in AWS cloud technology. I thought AWS was numero uno in the cloud computing club. Big dogs don’t do much PR but this is 2023, so adaptation is necessary I assume. AWS is shadowed by Microsoft, allegedly was number two, in the Cloud Club. Make no mistake, the Softies and their good enough software are gunning for the top spot in a small but elite strata of the techno world. The Google, poor Google, is lumbering through a cloud bedecked market with its user first, super duper promises for the future and panting quantum, AI, Office 365 with each painful step.

6 26 amazon gym

In a gym, high above the clouds in a sky scraper in the Pacific northwest, a high powered denizen of the exclusive Cloud Club, experiences a chest pain in the rarified air. After saying, “Hey, I am a-okay.” The sleek and successful member of an exclusive club, yelps and grabs his chest. Those in the club express shock and dismay. But one person seems to smile. Is that a Microsoftie or a Googler looking just a little bit happy at the fellow member’s obvious distress? MidJourney cooked up a this tasty illustration. Thanks, you plagiarism free bot you.

The Semafor interview offers some statements about its goals. No information about AWS and its Byzantine cloud pricing policies, nor is much PR light shed on  the yard sale approach to third party sourced products.

Here are three snippets which caught my attention. (I call these labored statements because each seems as if a committee of lawyers, blue chip consultants, and interns crafted them, but that’s just my opinion. You may find these gems  worthy of writing on a note card and saving for those occasions when you need a snappy quotation.)

Labored statement one

But there’s an old Amazon adage that these things are usually an “and” and not an “or.” So we’re doing both.

Got that? Boolean, isn’t it? Even though Amazon AWS explained its smart software years ago, a fact I documented in an invited lecture I gave in 2019, the company has not delivered on its promise of “off the shelf, ready to run” models, packaged data sets, and easy-to-use methods so AWS customers could deploy smart software easily. Like Amazon’s efforts in blockchain, some ideational confections were in the AWS jungle. A suite of usable and problem solving services were not. Has AWS pioneered in more than complicated cloud pricing?

Labored statement two

The ability to take that data and then take a foundational model and just contribute additional knowledge and information to it very quickly and very easily, and then put it into production very quickly and very easily, then iterate on it in production very quickly and very easily. That’s kind of the model that we’re seeing.

Ah, ha. I loved the “just.” Easy stuff. Digital Lego blocks. I once stayed in the Lego hotel. On arrival, I watched a team of Lego professionals trying to reassemble one of the Lego sculptures some careless child had knocked over. Little rectangles littered the hotel lobby. Two days later when I checked out, the Lego Star Wars’ figure was still being reassembled. I thought Lego toys were easy to use. Oh, well. My perception of AWS is that there are many, many components. Licensees can just assemble them as long as they have the time, expertise, and money. Is that the kind of model AWS will deliver or is delivering?

Labored statement three

ChatGPT may be the most successful technology demo since the original iPhone introduction. It puts a dent in the universe.

My immediate reaction: “What about fire, the wheel, printing, the Internet?” And I liked the fact that ChatGPT is a demonstration. Let me describe how Amazon handles its core functions. The anecdote dates from early 2022. I wrote about ordering an AMD Ryzen 5950 and receiving from Amazon a pair of red female-centric underwear.

panty on table

This red female undergarment arrived after I ordered an AMD Ryzen 5950 CPU. My wife estimated the value of the giant sized personal item at about $4.00US. The 5950 cost me about $550.00US. I am not sure how a warehouse fulfillment professional or a poorly maintained robot picker could screw up my order. But Amazon pulled it off and then for almost a month insisted the panties were the CPU.

This picture is the product sent to me by Amazon instead of an AMD Ryzen 5950 CPU. For the full story see, “Amazon: Is the Company Losing Control of Essentials?” After three weeks of going back and forth with Amazon’s stellar customer service department, my money was refunded. I was told to keep the underwear which now hang on the corner of the computer with the chip. I was able to buy the chip for a lower price from B+H Photo Video. When I opened the package, I saw the AMD box, not a pair of cheap, made-heaven-knows-where panties.

What did that say about Amazon’s ability to drive the Bezos bulldozer now that the founder rides his yacht, lifts weights, and ponders how Elon Musk and SpaceX have become the go-to space outfit? Can Amazon deliver something the customer wants?

Several observations:

First, this PR effort is a signal that Amazon is aware that it is losing ground in the AI battle.

Second, the Amazon approach is unlikely to slow Microsoft’s body slam of commercial customers. Microsoft’s software may be “good enough” to keep Word and SharePoint lovers on the digital ranch.

Third, Amazon’s Bezos bulldozer drivers seem to have lost its GPS signal. May I suggest ordering a functioning GPS from Wal-Mart?

Basics, Amazon, basics, not words. Especially words like “everything.” Do one thing and do it well, please.

Stephen E Arnold, June 26, 2023

Killing Wickr … Quickly and Without Love

January 27, 2023

Encrypted messaging services are popular for privacy-concerned users as well as freedom fighters in authoritarian countries.  Tech companies consider these messaging services to be a wise investment, so Amazon purchased Wickr in 2020.  Wickr is an end-to-end encrypted messaging app and it was made available for AWS users.  Gizmodo explains that Wickr will soon be nonexistent in the article, “Amazon Plans To Close Up Wickr’s User-Centric Encrypted Messaging App.”

Amazon no longer wants to be part of the encrypted messaging services, because it got too saturated like the ugly Christmas sweater market.  Amazon is killing the Wickr Me app, limiting use to business and public sectors through AWS Wickr and Wickr Enterprise.  New registrations end on December 31 and the app will be obsolete by the end of 2023.  

Wickr was worth $60 million went Amazon purchased it.  Amazon, however, lost $1 trillion in stock vaguer in November 2022, becoming the first company in history to claim that “honor.”  Amazon is laying off employees and working through company buyouts.  Changing Wickr’s target market could recoup some of the losses:

“But AWS apparently wants Wickr to focus on its business and government customers much more than its regular users. Among those public entities using Wickr is U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That contract was reportedly worth around $900,000 when first reported in September last year. Sure, the CBP wants encrypted communications, but Wickr can delete all messages sent via the app, which is an increasingly dangerous proposition for open government advocates.”

Wickr, like other encryption services, does not have a clean record.  It has been used for illegal drug sales and other illicit items via the Dark Web.  

Whitney Grace, January 27, 2022

Killing Wickr

January 26, 2023

Encrypted messaging services are popular for privacy-concerned users as well as freedom fighters in authoritarian countries.  Tech companies consider these messaging services to be a wise investment, so Amazon purchased Wickr in 2020.  Wickr is an end-to-end encrypted messaging app and it was made available for AWS users.  Gizmodo explains that Wickr will soon be nonexistent in the article, “Amazon Plans To Close Up Wickr’s User-Centric Encrypted Messaging App.”

Amazon no longer wants to be part of the encrypted messaging services, because it got too saturated like the ugly Christmas sweater market.  Amazon is killing the Wickr Me app, limiting use to business and public sectors through AWS Wickr and Wickr Enterprise.  New registrations end on December 31 and the app will be obsolete by the end of 2023.  

Wickr was worth $60 million went Amazon purchased it.  Amazon, however, lost $1 trillion in stock vaguer in November 2022, becoming the first company in history to claim that “honor.”  Amazon is laying off employees and working through company buyouts.  Changing Wickr’s target market could recoup some of the losses:

“But AWS apparently wants Wickr to focus on its business and government customers much more than its regular users. Among those public entities using Wickr is U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That contract was reportedly worth around $900,000 when first reported in September last year. Sure, the CBP wants encrypted communications, but Wickr can delete all messages sent via the app, which is an increasingly dangerous proposition for open government advocates.”

Wickr, like other encryption services, does not have a clean record.  It has been used for illegal drug sales and other illicit items via the Dark Web.  At one time, Wickr might have been a source of useful metadata. Not now. Odd.

Whitney Grace, January 26, 2023

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