By Jonathan Vanian
November 28, 2018

Amazon’s cloud chief Andy Jassy spent nearly three hours on Wednesday talking everything from competitors like Oracle to the company’s new artificial intelligence-powered toy race cars for developers.

As what’s become typical in recent years, the Amazon Web Services CEO used his keynote session at the company’s annual AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas to highlight numerous new enterprise services intended for coders and IT managers to build and manage apps using Amazon’s cloud computing service.

Although many of the services Jassy announced won’t be available in finalized versions until unspecified later dates and are intended for IT workers and not necessarily business managers, the deluge of product announcements also serve as a public relations effort to distinguish Amazon from rivals like Microsoft’s fast-growing Azure cloud computing service and Google’s cloud unit, considered by tech analysts to be a distant third in the competitive cloud market. To drive home the point, he said that another AWS executive recently sat next to another executive from an unnamed competitor on an airplane, and noticed that the executive was looking at a PowerPoint presentation that said “We look at everything AWS launches and we move as fast to launch something” with competing capabilities.

This competitive rhetoric by Jassy has increased in recent years with other cloud companies gaining some momentum and increased press attention, even though AWS is considered the leader in a market.

Jassy also singled out Oracle Executive Chairman Larry Ellison in a slide on cloud computing market share that lampooned the executive and his company for not being considered as big of a cloud computing player as others. AWS has been on the receiving end of Ellison’s public criticisms over the years, and this year at Oracle’s own IT conference, he attempted to minimize the company’s security efforts.

Here are a few other interesting tidbits from Jassy’s talk:

Amazon on the blockchain

Amazon finally revealed a service dedicated to the trendy blockchain technology, which generally refers to the distributed accounting ledger technology that acts as the foundation behind popular cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Jassy said while people would always ask when AWS would debut a blockchain service, which competitors like Oracle and IBM have done in recent years, it was unclear what companies would actually use the technology for.

For coders who want to to use blockchain technology as a way to manage transactions between organizations without a central party responsible for overseeing all that activity, Jassy announced Amazon Managed Blockchain service. This service supports popular open source blockchain technologies like hyperledger fabric and ethereum.

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Jassy also said that when AWS talked to customers, “we just hadn’t seen that many blockchain examples in production or that couldn’t pretty easily be solved by a database.” This follows a sentiment shared by some tech observers who believe that conventional database technology can often be used to solve some of the problems people believe blockchain technology can possibly solve, like verifying and tracking items in big supply chains.

With that in mind, Amazon debuted Amazon Quantum Ledger Database, a variant of its own database technology it uses to track changes within its massive cloud computing service. While it’s not true blockchain technology, it supposedly handles the tasks companies want to achieve when they talk about why they want to use the cutting-edge technology.

Amazon built a computer chip for artificial intelligence

Jassy said that AWS built its own computer chip to handle certain A.I. processing tasks not related to data training, in which developers feed data like images of cats into computers so that they learn to automatically recognize the felines. Instead, the new AWS Inferentia chip is used when computers need to take action on the data they receive.

AWS’s new A.I. chip underscores how massive cloud companies like Amazon and Google are designing and building their own specialized computer chips as a way to distinguish themselves from rivals and rely less on data center chip giant Intel.

Amazon has a new self-driving race car

In an usual twist to typically stodgy IT conferences, Jassy revealed a new toy car dubbed AWS DeepRacer that’s intended for coders to experiment with an A.I. technique called reinforcement learning. Researchers have been using reinforcement learning to teach computers to play video games by trial and error, and Jassy explained that the same technique can be applied to self-driving race cars.

Of course, considering the DeepRacer cars are the “size of a shoebox,” they won’t do too much damage if they crash because the A.I. malfunctioned. Coders can use 3D physics simulating software to run their A.I. experiments, and then transfer that learning over to the mini race cars.

Amazon is also debuting a sports league in which coders can compete against each other using the race cars to learn which developer has created the most superior reinforcement learning brains. Amazon will host the “deep racing championship cup” at next year’s AWS conference to determine the winner, Jassy said.

Update: Thursday, 8:30 PM PST

Added direct quote from Jassy to clarify the executive’s comments on databases and blockchain.

AWS spokesperson added that companies can access so-called preview versions of many of the services Amazon announced. These early versions of the products typically don’t contain the finalized set of features when they officially go on sale.

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