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Jeff Bezos on space, free speech and creating shows to sell more shoes

TechCrunch TechCrunch 31/05/2016 Matthew Lynley

When it came to discussing Peter Thiel’s involvement in the ongoing Gawker trial that’s raised questions surrounding free speech, Jeff Bezos quoted Confucius: “Seek revenge and you should dig two graves, one for yourself.”

Bezos, naturally, should have strong opinions when it comes to free speech: he’s the owner of The Washington Post. With Gawker locked in a legal battle that’s a sort of proxy duel between the company and Peter Thiel, Bezos effectively has a duty to come out in favor of protecting free speech in order to, at the very least, protect his investment. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s saying these things entirely to protect The Washington Post — the whole case has become a centerpiece for a discussion around a potential test of free speech rights.

So he came out swinging on stage at Vox Media’s Code Conference on Tuesday. In fact, there were so many quotes that we’re just going to go ahead and list them below:

  • “If you can’t tolerate critics, don’t do anything new or interesting”
  • “As a public figure, the best defense to speech you don’t like about yourself as a public figure is to develop a thick skin. You can’t stop it.”
  • “My advice is, if you came to me, I would say go stand on a street corner and watch all the people walk by, and think about what they’re thinking about. I bet you none of those people are thinking about you.”
  • “Beautiful speech doesn’t need protection, it’s ugly speech that needs protection. We have these cultural norms that allow people to say really ugly things. You don’t have to invite them to your dinner party, but you should let them say it.”
  • “One thing I think is not appropriate that Donald Trump is doing, is working to freeze or chill the media that are examining him. It’s just a fact that we live in a world where half the population on this planet, if you criticize your leader, there’s a good chance you’ll go to jail or worse. We live in this amazing democracy with amazing freedom of speech, and a presidential candidate should embrace that. They should say, I’m running for president of the most important country of the world, I expect to be scrutinized.”
  • “I guess the only thing I would say, with Kay Graham as my role model, I’m ready to let any of my body parts go through a big fat ringer if need be.”

Bezos also has a pet project in Blue Origin, his foray into space travel. It’s seen by most as a competitor to Elon Musk’s SpaceX — and Bezos wasn’t really denying that on stage. The two have been kind of passively sparring over building rockets that can land and be re-used. Bezos says he is taking a wider view of the potential of a vibrant space exploration industry — rather than just going to Mars.

Here are a few choice quotes from the discussion surrounding space travel:

  • “When it comes to space, I see it as my job, I’m building infrastructure the hard way. I’m using my resources to put in place heavy lifting infrastructure so the next generation of people can have a dynamic, entrepreneurial explosion into space.”
  • “I know Elon, we’re very like minded in many ways. We’re not conceptual twins. One thing I want us to do is go to Mars, but for me it’s one thing. He’s singularly focused on that. I think motivation wise, for me I don’t find that Plan B idea motivating. I don’t want a plan B for Barth, I want Plan B to make sure Plan A works.”
  • “All our heavy industry will be moved off planet and earth will be zoned residential and light industrial.”
  • “People will visit Mars, they will settle mars, and we should because it’s cool.”

The interview was a doozy. But of course that wasn’t all he talked about. Bezos dropped gem after gem throughout the hour-plus he was peppered with questions. Again, there are almost too many to choose from — but here are a few favorites from the interview:

  • On producing better artificial intelligence: “Humans are unbelievably data efficient. You don’t have to drive 1 million miles to drive a car, but the way we teach a self-driving car is have it drive a million miles.”
  • On protecting privacy: “You know you’re not anonymous on our site. We’re greeting you by name, showing you past purchases, to the degree that you can arrange to have transparency combined with an explanation of what the consumer benefit is.”
  • On building a physical book store: “If you know what you want to buy, we already have this thing called This is about satisfying a different need, it’s about browsing, discovery, having a fun space to wander around in.”
  • On buying The Washington Post: “I bought the post because, tactically, I’ve been friends with Don Graham for 15 years. If I hadn’t been friends with Don Graham it wouldn’t have happened. When he proposed it to me I was nervous I don’t know about the news business. The reason I finally bought it is because I think it’s an important institution. I would not have bought it if it had been an upside down salty snack food company.”
  • On producing original content: “From a business point of view for us, we get to monetize that content in a very unusual way. When we win a golden globe, it helps us sell more shoes. They look across more categories, they shop more”

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