Envisioning a world more connected – CES 2017

By: Brian L.

In 2005, Jonathan Huebner, a physicist who works in Pentagon’s Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, delivered a paper called ‘A Possible Declining Trend in Worldwide Innovation’. As the person with the direct insight into world’s most innovative technology, like new materials, machinery, and types of energy since 1985, he came to worry about the state of these ‘innovations’ that were coming to his attention, as they had become much less significant compared to items like the wheel and the transistor. He used a tree as a metaphor to describe what he thought the trend in innovation was. He said that mankind has already gone and climbed through the trunk and major limbs, discovering the things that really changed the world, like steam engines, electricity, the telephone, guns, and transistors. Now, all we have are a few branches that we’re dangling on, refining and reinventing past inventions and designs. In order to prove his point, he used data to show that the number of patents filed per person has declined over time, giving support to the idea that the frequency of life-changing ideas has declined. In an interview, he stated that ‘innovation is a finite resource’.


But ever since he published his work in 2005, the world has seen many changes and innovations that have, and could potentially change the world. Things that were only imagined in science fiction books and movies in the late 1900s and early 2000s are becoming rapidly true, as electric and self-driving cars, drones, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, smartphones, virtual and augmented reality, and the utilization of IoT technology. The pace at which technology and innovations continue to progress became accelerated over time, and always on the bleeding edge of these innovations were the CES (Consumer Electronics Show). This year’s conference was held from January 5th to 8th.


CES is, and has been for the last 50 years, ever since it first began in 1967, a place to look for to find out about the latest innovations and technologies that has changed the world. According to its website, it ‘showcases more than 3,800 exhibiting companies, including manufacturers, developers and suppliers of consumer technology hardware, content, technology delivery systems and more; a conference program with more than 300 conference sessions and more than 165,000 attendees from 150 countries’. And because it is owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the technology trade association representing the roughly $287 billion U.S. consumer technology industry, attracts the world’s business leaders and pioneering thinkers to a forum to discuss the most relevant news of the industry.


This year was clearly an aberration, because of the attendance of many companies that were traditionally thought to be outside the technology sector, such as Dunkin Donuts, Pernod Ricard (beverage), P&G (consumer goods), and even companies like Under Armour. A prevalent theme of this year was integration between different industries, some of them so drastic it couldn’t be imagined until now.


Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, announced during a keynote speech in January 6th, that he’s changing Under Armour into a ‘digital company’. This is the first time that a CEO of a sporting goods company has given a keynote speech in CES history. Under Armour has recently acquired 3 healthcare application companies including myfitnesspal, obtaining over 260 million fitness information and over 960 million eating habits of consumers. They also developed an app called ‘Under Armour Record’ with the advice of many sports stars including Michael Phelps. This app records activity of its users 24 hours a day to analyze living patterns and advise users to have a more healthy lifestyle. Under Armour also showcased many other products including smart running shoes that record and analyze users’ conditions.


Another revolutionary flair of the CES was visible by keynote speaker Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia. It is mainly known for its superb work in graphics, but in this year’s keynote Huang highlighted the company’s work on the utilization of AI on vehicles. Huang announced that Nvidia will be shipping the first version of its Nvidia Drive platform this year, with an expressed aim at making the idea of the self-driving car not just a luxury in the most high-end cars. Nvidia is already collaborating with numerous automobile companies such as Audi and Mercedes, and parts manufacturers ZF and Bosch.


Besides Nvidia’s work with AI in cars, AI was a big component of this year’s CES. Even amongst prominent companies such as Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Home, and Apple’s Siri, it was Amazon’s Dozes of products and services that were showcased were either compatible with Alexa, or came with Alexa built right into the product, such as GE’s new connected light. This is significant, as it is a sign that the technology industry is beginning to rally around Alexa as the default digital assistants in their products and services. This AI dominance might set a platform for the vast, yet unorganized up-and-coming era of IoT, enabling us to control many devices utilizing IoT in a centralized place, and as a Hub, Alexa is much more useful than just controlling our homes.


This year’s CES has shown the world that the humankind’s ability to innovate has not yet depleted, or that it could reach a new level unimagined in the past. The products shown at the conference are the things that are bringing us closer to the era only imagined through science fiction.


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