Welcome to the (almost) weekend! This week, roughly half the tech industry seemed to head to Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where companies rolled out their latest… well, let’s just get into it, shall we?
2020: When CES Got Weird
Your humble correspondent has attended CES a number of times over the past 15 years or so. Despite the inevitable chaos that comes with shoving hundreds of companies and thousands of people into a convention center in the middle of the desert (along with any number of conference rooms and hotel suites along the nearby Vegas Strip), there have usually been some reliable constants: The tech giants giving the keynotes would say something vague and uplifting about the current state of the industry, the companies on the convention-center floor would show off the latest incremental upgrades to their key products, and reps from the smaller startups would literally tackle any reporter unfortunate enough to walk within 10 feet.
Although your humble correspondent didn’t attend this year’s CES (alas!), it was apparently weird as heck. Which isn’t a bad thing: How many times can you stare at new televisions and smartphones and laptops, even if some of them fold (a big thing this year, apparently)? Among the more interesting inventions: Delta’s exoskeletons for baggage handlers struggling to throw your insanely oversized baggage into planes’ holds; a “smart” toothbrush from Oral-B; and photorealistic digital avatars designed by Samsung’s Star Labs.
But that wasn’t even the strangest stuff on display at CES. Segway—yes, a company that still exists!—has a new people-mover, the S-Pod, which looks like a plush recliner and a giant plastic egg had a wheeled, battery-powered baby. It’s a sleek pod capable of going 24 miles per hour, which will definitely make it stand out amidst the electric-powered scooters and onewheels powering down your local sidewalk. Also, as you can see from the image above, it resembles people-movers in the Pixar film "WALL-E" (image below), which, if you've seen the film... well, isn't exactly a fantastic association:
This CES also featured some forays into food tech, with Impossible Foods rolling out pig-free, plant-based pork to complement its fake beef. According to those who dug in, Impossible Pork tastes pretty close to the real thing, which may come as a relief to vegetarians who are hankering for a sausage.
And yes, amidst these strange and interesting innovations, there was the usual swarm of new phones and televisions. Some things about CES will never change.
CES: Everyone’s Big on Privacy Now
Over the past fifteen years or so, many consumers seemed a bit blasé when it came to their privacy. They were more than willing to put their whole lives on social media; and when voice-activated digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa began to hit the market, they were happy to put an always-on listening device into their homes. But in the wake of some major data breaches, it seems that the tide is turning a little bit—at this year’s CES, companies were suddenly interested in showing off just how much they care about your privacy.
For example, Amazon’s Ring devices, which you can use to monitor your home, now feature several privacy options—including the ability to “opt out” of your local police department accessing your video feed. Not to be outdone, Google Assistant gives users the option of deleting whatever you just said (“Hey Google, that wasn’t for you”) as well as more control over their privacy settings (“Hey Google, delete everything I’ve said to you over the past month”). Apple, which usually doesn’t make any sort of appearance at CES, did so this year to talk about its work in data privacy (and to be fair, Apple has been more privacy-focused than many of its competitors, even before concerns over tech giants’ data usage came to the fore).
But how much of this newfound interest in privacy is genuine, as opposed to corporate lip-service during one of the tech industry's most high-profile events, remains to be seen. In any case, it was interesting that CES was these firms' chosen venue for a privacy discussion; usually, the show is all about flash.
Warner Bros. Signs A.I. as Script Reader
In something not CES-related... film studio Warner Bros. plans on using an “A.I.-driven project management system” (in the words of the Hollywood Reporter) in order to pick which movies to make. Specifically, this A.I. platform offers a predictive-analytics package that will give studio executives some insights into how to best choose, budget, and market new films.
If we’re unlucky, of course, the algorithms will leverage machine learning to see what’s worked in the past, and advise studio executives to keep churning out rote sequels that all star either Vin Diesel or The Rock. Oh, wait, that’s already happening—Hollywood doesn’t need A.I. for that.
Have a great weekend, everyone!