LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 08:  Attendees try a prototype 3M Touch Systems 46-inch, projected capacitive display during a press event at The Venetian for the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) January 8, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The display utilizing technology from T1 Visions features a six-millisecond response to touch time, handles up to 20 finger touches at once and rejects accidental palm touches. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs from January 10-13 and is expected to feature 2,700 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to about 140,000 attendees.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) AI / Change / Popped Culture / Technology

That Place Between Tech Heaven and Tech Hell

Friday I drove up to Las Vegas to spend a day at the techie’s Love-in-cum-Cluster-fck known as the Consumer Electronic Show (CES). It is the biggest show in Las Vegas; a place known for big shows. It attracts people from eighty-one percent of the countries in the world. There were 1,700 more reporters and media people at CES 2017 than there were at the Olympics. Over 100,000 attendees walk the 2 million square feet of show space and over 65,000 reps are there to present and sell. Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, Apple and Target collective send over 1,100 people to the show. It’s a big freaking deal. CES is more than a show about electronic gadgets and doo-dads. CES offers us a look into the future of all things tech, something for which there is no shortage of interest or wonder. It is in a word – overwhelming. And it’s too big to for a coffee-addled Luddite suffering the effects of a five hour drive across the desert to experience in a day. But that didn’t stop me because I actually love it. So here is my take on CES 2017.

Three Rating Categories

When I walk the show and look at the booths and the products I put them into one of three categories: useful, useless and life-changing. For some reason, I found far fewer life-changing products this year than I did in previous years. Maybe that’s because the tech has become so impressive that the bar goes up a bit more every year. But it also may be because most of the stuff, while impressive was more fun than functional. Let alone life-altering. Yes the Altered Reality/Virtual Reality headsets are amazing but until you can tell me how they’ll change my life – they won’t. The drones are impressive but again, what are they good for after I get done buzzing my neighbor’s back yard? Self-driving cars were big but the early models have more features than I would need and a price tag that I can’t justify. Robots were all the rage too; there were some of the cutest dang things without fur I’ve ever seen. As for the “Alexa everywhere” claim, it’s true.  Amazon’s intuitive/intrusive, servant/savant was all over the show.  As were the companies vying to use it to connect and communicate with every device in your home.

My take-away is that none of the things that I saw will immediately or greatly change my family;s my company’s or my clients’ quality of life. There was nothing that I searched on Amazon and bought. That doesn’t mean that by this time next year some of these companies won’t have figured out how to convince me that I must have something that they make. That’s what they do. The show just felt a bit like the upgrade from the iPhone 6 to the 7 – I’ll wait a year and see what happens.

The Best Booths at CES 2017

And while nothing I saw screamed “you gotta have this” there were some pretty impressive displays by some of the big tech players. Specifically:

  • Sony – Had the coolest space and offered products that looked like they would go into my house or help my business the fastest. One of the more impressive products at the show were the interactive video tabletops. These are basically tables and desk tops that have the functionality of a computer touchscreen. They feature interactive graphics and are therefore are able to do anything a touchscreen can do.
  • LG – Had the most impressive array of home appliances that seemed to go together. With an unlimited budget and a solid programmer, your house could operate and maintain itself with the right mix of LG tech.
  • Panasonic – Had what appeared to be the largest and most diverse variety of products on the floor. Maybe it was the placement or layout of the booth but it appeared to be almost endless. It wasn’t as clean as Sony or as completely integrated as LG but Panasonic just has a lot of stuff.
  • BMW – They had their own pavilion with a futuristic vehicle and driving tours. They have embraced tech and seem to be leading the revolution among established, non-Tesla car makers. When I walked into their space I felt as if I’d been teleported to Europe.

Left With More Questions Than Answers

If you want more sophisticated articles and analysis of the CES show they’re out there. Over 648 million of them judging by my Google search results. You can check out everything from Wired Magazine  to Peter Diamondis  and even Variety. They each offer unique insights and observations. But for me, the show generated more questions than answers and so my assessment of CES came down to these:

  1. Do you need a totally, bitchin’ car if it drives itself? Isn’t that a bit like waiting for the rad car at Disney’s Autopia? And can you really go all Paul LeMat in American Graffiti if the car is driving itself?
  2. Who’s going to watch all these TVs and listen to all this music? There were 8K televisions at the show this year. My ISP can’t push 4K yet so what to do with that TV? Not to mention that my daughter hasn’t turned on the TV once in the last three years. She gets her stuff from YouTube. The audio options were just as insane but I can’t carry all that tech in my backpack and since I’m half-deaf from 30 years of bad earbuds, why bother?
  3. When do AR and VR go from being a just a game to being a game-changer? I understand that games and porn drive the development of consumer tech because that’s where the money’s at. But for my money I need this stuff to be more useful.
  4. Do we need all these drones? These things are kind of creepy. Yes, some of the drones I saw were impossible to miss and might even be able to hoist a small car. But others were so small that you might even miss them as they fly above you capturing your every move. Not cool.
  5. Who’s writing the stories and creating the compelling content? Our slogan at the agency is “Technology promises. Creativity delivers.” The show featured technology that can capture and distribute an insane amount of high-quality photos, video and audio. But that stuff needs a purpose and that purpose is usually wrapped in an entertaining, educating and compelling story. Where’s the software for that?

Security Is the First Priority

After seeing all this tech intended to push more information, education and entertainment out across the ether, I started to wonder if the cart hadn’t gotten in front of the horse. This is all great stuff but shouldn’t security be our first priority? Most of what I saw at CES 2017 will do much to promote what I’d call sedentary, super-sized navel-gazing. We can now sit on our asses and let bots do our house work while we direct Alexa to shoot personal videos from a drone camera, edit them with HD sound and incredible graphics and stream them to our Facebook pages. The amount of human capital invested in making robots, self-driving cars, smart appliance and then connecting them to Alexa impressed me. But I also wondered if we might not be better served focusing our efforts on locking down the network before we expand its reach. Let’s make our tech hack-proof before it gets any bigger. If we’re going to broadcast and bear our souls to the masses, we should make sure that we’re not exposing them to the Russians and their ilk.

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