CES 2018 Review: AI Will Change Our Lives (for better or worse)

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is always an extravaganza. It’s a show designed to amaze visitors with life-changing products and technology that may never see the light of day. There has been a shift over the last few years to present smarter, more realistic visions of the future. Don’t provide an Epcot view of the world: A glimpse of the future with only imagination powering the concept. Instead, give us the best theory of a distant future using current technology along with the tech in active and advanced research.

But not everything at CES is far-fetched tech. Many manufacturers also present products to be released within the next 12 months. This year, some big names made major impacts at presenting mostly existing products while creating a new experience for the crowd.

If you’re a musician or otherwise tied to the music industry, you are undoubtedly familiar with the Gibson brand. The iconic company behind the classic Les Paul shunned the upcoming NAMM Show (the music instrument industry’s preeminent trade show) in favor of a massive CES tent in the parking lot outside the convention center. Gibson’s official statement is that CES is a better show for them to shift the focus to the pro-audio brands the company has been amassing recently.

Upon entering the Gibson booth, you notice a live stage at the end of the tent with a performing band. The wall adjacent the front door is lined with electric guitars and continues this way to the side wall. Following the trail of guitars leads to the corner of the performance stage and the now-famous Gibson guitar throne: A Game-of-Thrones style seat that’s become a sort of traveling guitar shrine. Visitors line up by this mythical chair and have their picture taken as they unveil their best Ozzy or David Lee Roth impersonations.


The Gibson Throne: Who is Worthy?

The left wall was strewn with bass guitars to finish the loop of the tent and bring you back to the main entrance. The center section consisted of various demo stations. The first half of the stations was devoted to the Phillips audio brand. There were earbuds and headphones (wired and wireless), and a few different models of portable, wireless speakers. The remaining tables were guitar demo stations where each visitor could sit down and choose from a group of instruments and play them through Philips headphones.

Gibson may claim their goal was to shift focus to their pro-audio brands but it felt more like what they were trying to do was posit Gibson guitars as cool consumer products that fit in any entertainment room equipped with premium sound and a 4K television.

Google was another company intent on making a grand appearance. The tech giant has skipped CES since its rise to stardom, opting to hold independent product releases and parties instead. This year was a different story due in large part to the impact Amazon’s Alexa assistant made at last year’s CES. Car companies, home electronics corporations, right down to smaller experimental companies were touting Alexa compatibility at the 2017 CES.

Google was not about to let Amazon take the AI spotlight two years in a row. LG, Kohler, Kia, JBL, Sony, iHome, to name a few, all had products advertising seamless integration with the Google Assistant. Of course, compatibility can vary from the technology recognizing and working with Assistant to it having the AI built into the unit. Regardless of the level of compatibility, it led to Google having more mentions that its closest competitor.

And then there was the booth. Like Gibson, Google opted for an outdoor space at the show—and they used it to do what Google does best. The easygoing company created an experience that was as much about imprinting the Google name on the minds of users as it was about showcasing their products and abilities. The booth had the longest lines of the show with users eagerly waiting to traverse the three-story, two-structure adventure and see the various ways Google affects their lives. The tour culminated with a rooftop café and tunnel slide back to ground level. It was clear Google was determined to win this year’s battle for best invisible technology.

That brings us back to the main theme of the show. As you walked through the booths to see the latest innovations in televisions, kitchen appliances, smart homes, cars, and transportation in general, it became clear there was one unifying decade. The technology we were treated to was looking over thirty years ahead at the year 2050. This is apparently when experts believe technology will control every aspect of our lives in a seamless interaction between human being and artificial intelligence.

The vision relies on one main aspect: autonomous transportation. Self-driving cars eliminate traffic jams as they weave in and out of lanes seamlessly without slowing the flow of other vehicles. Since we no longer need to be in control of our vehicles, there is little need to own them. Vehicles become a service that picks you up and delivers you to a destination. Parks replace parking lots. The car itself becomes a mobile office where you can prepare for a meeting or presentation as you commute.


Where’s the driver?

In addition to the self-driving car, the smart home will become aware of its inhabitants and work to keep them comfortable. According to Panasonic, the house of the future will not only know and adjust to your habits but will also understand when you are feeling ill and adjust temperature, humidity levels, and other characteristics to care for you.

It was not too long ago that I sat in a technology seminar and was told experts were unable to see beyond 2045 and in fact were concerned of what lay ahead based on the learning rate of our present tech. This year, CES was encouraging us to instead welcome all these changes fearlessly.

Technological advances always pique my interest. Without our efforts to improve technology, we would not enjoy many of the things we live with and take for granted today. Would you like to go back to a world before the Internet, before microwave ovens, or before refrigerators? Yet, it’s also important to remain vigilant about where our new products are taking us as a society and who or what we may be leaving behind.

As someone who’s spent the equivalent of several years on the road thanks to living in Los Angeles and previously having a stint as a sales and merchandising rep, I’ve seen the various minor human errors that lead to accidents. I welcome autonomous transportation and think it will do wonders for our sanity. That doesn’t mean I wish to relinquish all control to computers or that I want Siri or Alexa determining the temperature of my bedroom and prescribing drugs to me because I sneezed inside my house.

CES is a fun show to attend. You get lost in the glamour of a scintillating future with shiny new products. The purpose of the show is to get consumers excited but I can’t help but feel like an ulterior goal may be to desensitize consumers and reduce their fears of technology that grows smarter each year. As a result, we grow closer each year to a future of friendly robots promising to make our lives better. We are more attached to our machines than ever before and one day soon, we may find ourselves unable to distinguish between human and machine interactions.

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