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This 1997 Jeff Bezos interview proves he saw the future coming

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, explains his plan for success.

Jeff Bezos 1997 Interview
  • Jeff Bezos had a clear vision for Amazon.com from the start.
  • He was inspired by a statistic he learned while working at a hedge fund: In the '90s, web usage was growing at 2,300% a year.
  • Bezos explains why books, in particular, make for a perfect item to sell on the internet.
"What's really incredible about this is that this is day one. This is the very beginning. This is the Kitty Hawk stage of electronic commerce."
– Jeff Bezos

A number of the billionaires of today made their money by having the foresight while the web was still in its infancy. None were more successful than Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com and now the richest man in the world (at least until his divorce goes through).

In a 1997 interview, the year when he first became a millionaire by raising $54 million from Amazon's IPO, Bezos relates the story of how he came up with the idea for the online juggernaut. He was in New York City in 1994, working for a qualitative hedge fund, when he came across the "startling" statistic that "web usage was growing at 2,300 percent a year." This inspired him to look for a business plan that would "make sense in the context of that growth."

After making a list of 20 different products to sell online, he picked books as the best one to orient the business around. Why books? Because unlike other products, there are "more items in the book category than any other category by far."

"Attention is the scare commodity of the late 20th century," says Bezos.

How Jeff Bezos calculated success

He compared books to music, the number two best item for the web. Bezos pointed out that at any given time there were 200,000 CDs "active" worldwide (let's not forget this was 1997). But at that same time, there were 3 million books "active in the book space" in different languages, with more than 1.5 million in English alone.

The genius of recognizing the unique potential of an online bookstore that Bezos says "couldn't exist any other way" was complemented by his vision in how to actually make such a store work. His company only kept an inventory of a couple of thousand bestselling books while having access to 400,000 others from an electronic network of wholesale distributors. These "almost in time" titles would be available within a day. Amazon also made a deal with another 20,000 publishers to have access to 1.1 million titles, which would take a couple of weeks to get. They also thought of how to connect to a million out-of-print titles by connecting with appropriate dealers.

Digital thinking in the print age

The Amazon founder also explained how his company would continue to capture people's attention amid the glut of information. His secret? Doing something "new and innovative", creating an online business the likes of which did not exist, that "actually has real value for the customer." Doing that creates marketing opportunities from newspapers and generates "huge" positive word of mouth that helps grow the business. In the first year, all growth for Amazon was fueled by word of mouth and media exposure, not ads. In fact, as far as ads, in 1997 he expressed a preference for online ads versus traditional paper ones since the digital ones were much easier to track and quantify. He called it a marketing "Nirvana".

"What's really incredible about this is that this is day one. This is the very beginning. This is the Kitty Hawk stage of electronic commerce," said Bezos.

In the end of the interview, Bezos also made a prediction for a millennium from now, saying that we're going to find out that "people will look back and say the late 20th century was a great time to be alive on this planet."

Check out the full interview here.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Lee Jae-Sung of Korea Republic lies on the pitch holding his knee during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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