New York City may be on the Amazon HQ2 shortlist, but CEO Jeff Bezos wasn’t in town to make any major announcements.
The Amazon (AMZN) founder was interviewed by journalist and historian Walter Isaacson at an event Thursday hosted by FIRST, a global nonprofit that aims to get young people interested in science and technology through robotics.
During the nearly 45-minute conversation on-stage, Bezos addressed the search for a city to build out its second headquarters — a new facility that is expected to create 50,000 jobs and cost $5 billion.
“Ultimately the decision will be made with intuition after gathering and studying a lot of data — for a decision like that, as far as I know, the best way to make it is you collect as much data as you can, you immerse yourself in that data but then you make the decision with your heart,” Bezos told Isaacson.
Amazon received 238 proposals, selected 20 finalists in January, and plans to announce the winning city by end of this year.
The comments came toward the end of a wide-ranging interview about data, decision-making, technology and education. Bezos noted that he still keeps his “Jeff at Amazon” email address, despite not being able to read every email these days. That’s because he believes that anecdotes can help improve data.
Some decisions, however, have to be made with the gut instead of data, he said. An example is Amazon Prime.
“Every spreadsheet showed it was going to be a disaster,” he said.
Bezos revealed that there are “somewhere around 10,000 or 12,000 people” who work on Alexa and Echo at the company.
“It is technically one of the hardest things — not that just that we’ve ever done — that’s ever been done. It is … ASR — automatic speech recognition, that’s super hard. Natural language understanding, that’s super hard. Every time you curse at Alexa, she gets better — so don’t stop.”
Bezos added that “there’s nothing easy about Alexa,” and stressed that Alexa does not listen when she’s not being spoken to.
Bezos rarely gives interviews, but he has been making himself available for candid conversations as of late. In September, he weighed in on the press and politics during an hour-long fireside chat at an event in Washington, DC.
In addition to leading Amazon, Bezos also owns The Washington Post and space exploration company Blue Origin. Earlier this year, he became the world’s wealthiest person, and has an estimated net worth of $138 billion, according to Bloomberg.
In September, Bezos said he and his wife MacKenzie announced the Bezos Day One Fund: $2 billion to be put toward existing nonprofits helping homeless families, as well to creating a network of preschools in low-income communities.