Since stepping down as Amazon CEO in 2021, Jeff Bezos has rarely appeared in the public eye.
Recently, Bezos chatted for two hours on the famous technology podcast "Lex Fridman Podcast", sharing his work at Blue Origin, insights on generative AI, and more thoughts on management:
▲ Lex Fridman and Jeff Bezos
- Regarding AI: Bezos feels that the current large language models are more like "discoveries" than "inventions" because they are not completely controllable and often surprise people.
- Sharing the experience of Blue Origin's maiden space flight: He seemed to have witnessed his own funeral; the feeling of weightlessness was wonderfully natural; looking back at the Earth was shocking.
- Blue Origin's mission is to become "the most decisive company in the world." Bezos shared how to build this "decisiveness" and why "seeking truth" is an eternal pursuit.
- "Meeting Aesthetics": Bezos talks about why he resists PPT and how to use the "six-page memo method" to effectively hold meetings.
- The future of mankind: Bezos talks about the possibility of human beings living in space in the future, and why a "trillion" population is not impossible.
The "discovered" AI, the super "energy-saving" human brain
For generative AI such as ChatGPT, Bezos put forward a very interesting definition: "Large language models in today's form are not inventions, they are discoveries."
According to Bezos, only things that we deliberately design and have a clear understanding of how they work are inventions.
For example, the telescope was an invention, but seeing Jupiter through a telescope and knowing that it has its own satellites was a discovery.
Large language models are more like discovery. We are constantly amazed by their capabilities. They are not a product of design.
As for the potential harm of AI to human survival, Bezos showed an optimistic attitude:
We humans have many ways to perish ourselves.
These technologies have the potential to help us not do these things, but actually save us.
He then extended the discussion with the movie "Oppenheimer", but the character he focused on was the government official Louis Strauss played by Robert Downey Jr.:
We've invented these amazing, destructively powerful technologies called nuclear weapons, and they're managed by us humans, but we don't really have the ability to control them.
And (Strauss) is all that he represents in this movie… He's being stingy there, thinking that Oppenheimer spoke ill of him to Einstein.
We, as a species, are not advanced and mature enough to manage these technologies.
Despite this, Bezos also feels that the human brain is still very magical. One of the most striking features is how extremely "energy efficient" our brains are:
Compared to these models, we know that the human brain does work differently, in part because we are energy efficient.
The human brain can do amazing things, and it only consumes about 20 watts to do them. AI consumes much more energy to do the same thing.
In addition, another advantage of the human brain is that we save data.
Self-driving technology requires tens of billions of mileage data to learn to drive, but humans can learn it without driving so many miles of practice.
This also inspires us to develop AI:
So, there are still some skills that we haven’t learned yet.
I think the key (to AI) is not just the scale (of training data).
What’s interesting is that now we have reaped huge rewards simply by increasing the size of the data.
Overall, Bezos believes we are in an era of historical transformation.
How fast (AI) can develop, no one knows. But over the next decade or two, I think we're going to see very significant progress.
I'm personally excited about this.
On the eve of the first space flight: "It was like witnessing my own funeral"
On July 20, 2021, Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, and two other passengers completed Blue Origin’s first manned space journey aboard New Shepard.
What everyone didn’t know was that just before the launch, Bezos seemed to have watched his own funeral.
At 4:30 in the morning that day, Bezos and his brother were preparing to go out to the launch site. They saw their family and good friends saying goodbye to them:
The way they said goodbye to us was like, they felt like they might be saying goodbye to us… you could tell how nervous they were.
It was a powerful scene because it was almost like attending your own funeral and you felt how loved you were, which was really cool.
Relatives and friends also include Bezos’ mother.
Bezos said that it was difficult when he was about to tell his mother that he was going to take his younger brother with him on the first flight:
Her reaction was something like, "You two (both going)?"
▲ Four passengers on Blue Origin’s first manned space trip
Contrary to saying goodbye to relatives and friends, Bezos was relaxed.
Bezos himself is very familiar with the New Shepard. Moreover, as a "tourism project" that will be open to the public in the future, Bezos knows how much energy has been invested in the project's safety:
The time we spend on the escape system is the sum of the time we spend on the rest of the rocket. It's the toughest part of the entire New Shepard architecture.
In his view, no matter how the design is optimized, there is no guarantee that rocket launches will never go wrong, so "the only way to improve safety is to set up an escape system."
Once the launch started, Bezos immediately "enjoyed" it.
One thing is particularly fun. The zero-gravity state feels very natural.
I don't know if it was because it was like returning to the womb or what.
The moment I look back at the earth is even more moving:
You can see how fragile the earth is. If you weren't an environmentalist before, that moment will turn you into one.
The great Jim Lovell (astronaut) said that it was when he looked back at the Earth from space that he realized: "You don't go to heaven after you die. You go to heaven when you are born."
(In space) You see that boundless darkness, and there is a gem of life in all the nothingness, and that is the earth.
Building “the most decisive company in the world”
In 2021, Bezos officially stepped down as Amazon CEO. In this interview, he shared that he left Amazon to devote more energy to Blue Origin.
Blue Origin needs to grow faster.
The main reason I did this was so that I could spend more time at Blue Origin, invest some more energy, and add some urgency to, "We need to move forward faster than we are now."
In order to make Blue Origin develop faster, he set a goal for the aerospace company-to become "the most decisive company in the world."
In the past, the mission he set for Amazon was to be "the most customer-centric company in the world"—taking customer needs as the starting point and working in reverse.
For "the most decisive company in the world," Bezos said this means "we're going to become very good at taking technically appropriate risks and making those decisions quickly."
At the same time, being decisive does not mean that you cannot "repent":
We can always change our minds.
I often talk about "one-way doors" and "two-way doors," and most decisions are "two-way doors."
To put it simply, a "two-way door" is a reversible decision: "You choose a door, walk over, and wait for a while to look at it. If it is the wrong decision, you can go back and choose another door."
"One-way door" refers to a very important decision with irreversible consequences. "Once you step through that door, there is no turning back."
When faced with a "one-way door" decision, Bezos will be very cautious and consider multiple aspects, because "we really have to get this right from the beginning."
He joked that he was the "chief slow down officer" at Amazon because he needed to slow down those one-way door decisions.
In his opinion, the reason why many large companies move slowly is because whether it is a "one-way door" or a "two-way door" decision-making, these companies all handle it according to the "one-way door" method:
Most two-way door decisions should be made by an individual or a small team with deep roots in the company.
One-way doors should be stepped down by senior management and ensure the right choices are made.
As the company's top decision-maker, although Bezos has the right to veto his colleagues' decisions, he often "disagree and commit".
This means that even if Bezos cannot agree with his subordinate's point of view, he thinks that the other person may understand the matter better and trusts the other person. He will directly say that he does not agree with this point of view, but is willing to support and help him try:
I will take the initiative to help them do this. This is very important teammate behavior.
▲ Lex Fridman visits Blue Origin
As a negative teaching material, he specifically pointed out two particularly bad decision-making methods: "compromise" and "fighting to see who can make it to the end."
The advantage of compromise is that it saves trouble, but it cannot lead us to the truth.
Bezos gave the example of two people wanting to know how high the ground is from the ceiling. One guessed 11 feet and the other guessed 12 feet. In that compromise, one person gave in and the two finally decided to guess it was 11.5 feet.
The correct way is to use a ruler to measure. But it takes time and energy to measure with a ruler and ideas.
"Who can fight to the end" is a competition to see who is more persistent. It is also not pursuing the truth, which can be very frustrating.
Many times, no one knows what the real truth is, which is where “disagree, but commit” comes into play.
Escalate the issue to your boss and say, "We can't agree. We like each other. We respect each other, but we can't agree with each other on this issue. We need you to make a decision before we can move forward." "
In Bezos' view, Amazon now has 1.5 million employees, but it is still very responsive because of the decision-making culture in the company.
Move quickly on decisions, as fast as you can responsibly do, that's how you speed up.
Bezos’s “Meeting Aesthetics”
After becoming more deeply involved in Blue Origin's work, Bezos said he worked harder than before.
Meetings are his daily routine.
My idea of a perfect meeting starts with clear documentation.
Whether at Amazon or Blue Origin, Bezos uses the "six-page" meeting method – the person in charge of the meeting needs to write a six-page memo in advance to express his or her ideas clearly and completely.
In the first 30 minutes of each meeting, all participants will quietly read the six pages of memos.
Why not let others read it ahead of time? Bezos said that people always don't have time to read in advance, so they have a hard time keeping up during meetings, and they even "pretend to read" like they did in college, which doesn't help solve problems.
Give everyone that time so that everyone can start from the same starting point of information.
This also ensures that the person making the proposal can express his or her true thoughts without being influenced by his/her leader.
In addition, Bezos doesn’t like PPT.
PPT is designed to be a tool used to persuade people. Like a sales tool. And internally, the last thing you want is to be sold on.
Again, you are searching for the truth.
At the same time, he believes that the bullet point content of PPT is a form that is friendly to the speaker but unfriendly to the audience, and can hide many logical flaws. The complete narrative of a memo is more demanding on the writer. "A good six-page memo may take two weeks to write."
Although the plan is very fixed half an hour before the meeting, when it comes to the actual discussion part of the meeting, Bezos will be very free because he "believes in the importance of mind wandering."
In his view, the core of a meeting is to ask questions that no one knows the answer to, and everyone is looking for solutions through divergent thinking.
When everything is just right, it makes all the time spent in other meetings worth it.
That feels good. When you get a real breakthrough in a session, it feels like there's a beauty in it.
The future of a "trillion" population
Regarding the future of mankind, Bezos said that he would be happy to see trillions of humans living in the solar system in the future:
If we had a population of one trillion, we would have 1,000 Mozarts and 1,000 Einsteins at any given time. Our solar system will be teeming with life, intelligence and energy.
In his opinion, the solar system has enough resources to support a civilization of this size.
However, it is a bit difficult to accommodate so many people living on the planet, and the form of a space station may be more suitable.
We can harvest resources from the moon, near-Earth objects, and asteroids to build huge "O'Neill colonies" where people will live.
"O'Neill Colony", also known as "O'Neill Cylinder", is an idea proposed by American physicist and astronomer Jared K. O'Neill in "High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space".
The O'Neill colony consists of two counter-rotating cylinders, each approximately 5 kilometers in diameter and 20 kilometers long, whose rotation provides artificial gravity to the O'Neill cylinder.
▲ Conceptual depiction of O’Neill’s colony
In Bezos’ view, humans will still want to “live closer to the earth” after moving into space, especially in the early days.
Humans can choose to live in space or on Earth, but the difference is that the entire human race can use resources from space.
Post-migration humans may still want to return to Earth for vacation, just as people today want to go to Yellowstone Park.
For Bezos, human migration into space is inevitable.
He believes that although people like to talk about the "good old days", modern society is indeed better than before, with poverty rates, mortality rates, etc. having been greatly reduced. The only thing that has changed for the worse is nature.
We have exchanged part of the beauty of primitive nature for other benefits of our modern society.
We can have both, but to do that we have to go to space.
We can explore other planets, move heavy industry to other planets, find new energy and resources, and use these to support the development of human civilization and protect the earth at the same time.
We have sent robots to explore all the planets and we know this one (Earth) is really good.
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