You have to feel a little sorry for the good people of Las Vegas. No sooner have they dusted themselves down from the influx of partygoers that typify the holiday season than they have to prepare themselves for the annual town takeover that is the Consumer Electronics Show.
This year marks the 50th CES with an estimated 165,000 people descending on Las Vegas in pursuit of the new. Some 20,000 new products and solutions will be launched this week alone, attracting a thousand more journalists than covered last year’s Olympics.
It looks a little different this year. While there are still halls showcasing the latest handsets, smartphones and drones – so many drones – you’ll also see booths from brands like L’Oreal, Carnival Cruises, Ford, Hyundai and others. That would have been unheard of 5 years ago, but today the unavoidable truth is that technology is absolutely, irreversibly ubiquitous.
Further proof lies in the way we use technology. Back in 1994 Microsoft made the graphical user interface real for many of us. That interface is starting to become redundant. Voice recognition software is now so sophisticated that it delivers a word error rate on a par with humans. That means it is as capable of understanding us as we are of understanding one another.
That’s the game changer that has enabled the creation of services like Amazon’s ALEXA or Google Home. The Consumer Technology Association states that over 5 million of these digital assistants have been sold this year and confidently predicts that this market will double in 2017. There are already over 15,000 apps available for digital assistants – and again the CTA expects a further 7,000 plus to be launched this week. This is a technology that is evolving as fast as we think of ways to use it.
Once the technology is capable of understanding us, then progress lies with how well that technology integrates into our lives.
This is far more than simply requesting a favourite song or news update – taken to the next step and vocal computing becomes the platform for the era of humans interacting with appliances that power, heat and manage their homes without effort. In other words, its about AI.
If its amazing to think that vocal computing has come so far in a just over a decade then brace yourselves. We are just beginning to fully appreciate what life could be like with technology that reads and analyses us like data.
Big companies are putting their R&D departments to work here. LG Electronics has launched a new refrigerator today that works with Amazon ALEXA to make life a little simpler. Effectively this collaboration turns a dumb appliance into a highly convenient digital assistant capable of checking stocks, reordering supplies, suggesting recipes and yes, playing your favourite music to cook by. Similarly it has developed robot vacuum cleaners capable of learning what objects in its path and when to move around, and when to politely ask its owner to step aside. It won’t stop there.
What will be critical to ensuring our comfort with this truly ubiquitous technology is some smart thinking around privacy and security. Our comfort in considering the digital assistant a part of our daily lives may be diminished if the courts are successful in calling them to testify against us as was recently suggested by the Benton County Circuit Court. Similarly as more companies look to capitalise on this ubiquity, there will need to be a new code of conduct to prevent a helpful friend becoming the source of unwanted nuisance.
For companies across all sectors this ubiquity presents an opportunity and a threat. As our appliances automate small decisions we will look for new sources of stimulation and entertainment. We will expect all products to deliver technological advantage and to be part of our own personal technology ecosystems. The future is connected, informed and incredible – all thanks to the power of computing.