Bezos disagrees with that label, though. In 2014, he told shareholders he thinks “quiet” is more accurate: “Our primary approach is, we talk when we have something to say.”
As recent whisperings about Amazon’s involvement in the healthcare industry have risen to a crescendo, Amazon may be just about there.
Bezos first alluded to Amazon’s healthcare plans at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in October 2016. “I think healthcare is going to be one of those industries that is elevated and made better by machine learning and artificial intelligence. And I actually think Echo and Alexa do have a role to play in that,” he told attendees.
Clearly, he wasn’t just riffing. Amazon has spent the last year slowing inching its way deeper into the healthcare industry.
In July 2017, Amazon set up 1492, a secret lab dedicated to healthcare innovation. Since then, they’ve hired a number of healthcare experts to join the project, including Seattle doctor Martin Levine and Taha Kass-Hout, former chief health informatics officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In February, the company even teamed up with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to form a company dedicated to reducing healthcare costs for employees.
It’s not yet clear how these pieces will come together, or how Amazon will stake its claim in the healthcare industry as a whole. But there are more signs that when the company’s efforts come to the fore, they could be in a position to dominate the industry.
The latest sign that Amazon is really serious about getting into healthcare is the sheer number of healthcare experts on the guest list for Bezos’ third annual MARS conference, an invite-only event that draws its name from the topics under discussion: machine learning, home automation, robotics, and space exploration.
— Lindy Elkins-Tanton (@ltelkins) March 19, 2018
At the meeting, Sonde Health presented its technology: AI that can diagnose mental and physical conditions based on recordings of a patient’s voice. Rich Mahoney, head of clothing startup Seismic, demonstrated his company’s “powered” garments, which could help the elderly and disabled people cope with mobility issue. And neuroscientist David Eagleman showed off his company’s vest that uses “sensory substitution” to help the deaf communicate.
It’s still anyone’s guess how these technologies could tie in with Amazon’s healthcare plans. But it’s worth noting this was the first year Bezos invited reporters to join in on his “summer camp for geeks.” For someone who typically likes to keep Amazon’s future plans under wraps and carefully controlled, that fact alone could be a sign the company’s healthcare ambitions won’t be a secret much longer.
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