CES. The tech event of the year. 100,000 tech fanatics, 32,949 tech buyers, and 7,545 journalists each jostling to see exactly what the next twelve months are going to be serving up on a silver motherboard. So, had the future arrived? My week at CES was bitter sweet. Here’s why.
Virtual Reality (is what I’m looking for… and I might just have to keep on looking)
I’ll admit it. I was pretty excited at the prospect of what would be happening in the realm of VR. But what was happening was very little – quite unlike the wizardry VR and augmented reality offerings I imagined, CES seemed to present product after product of affordable VR headsets, each were hoping to get in on the Oculus/HTC action (take Lenovo as a typical example). Whilst there were a few start-ups excitedly announcing their VR/AR prototypes, it’s a sad fact of technological life that without a funding miracle, they’ll likely come to little more than the prototypes of their present form.
AI, next. Onwards and upwards. I thought.
Artificial Intelligence (Artificial being the operative word)
But, whilst it was all pretty smart, it was also a long way of true AI. Take the house bot Kuri – the makers of this robot have bestowed Kuri with the tagline of being “insanely cute with some serious technology”. And this little guy can do all sorts of things – he can recognise voices, avoid taking a tumble down the stairs and respond with sounds, flashy lights and emotive eyes. Impressive specs, innovative tech – but the purpose escapes me.
Right now, I can’t help but feel that all too many are rushing to sate the consumer appetite for AI novelty. This artificial intelligence is all feeling a little artificial – failing abjectly to actually progress onto machine learning, and authentic AI that truly integrates with every element of our lives – helping us live better, healthier and assisting us to advance.
Just like a kid a Christmas who didn’t get that toy he’d set his heart on, I’m left drawing on feelings that range from mild disappointment to stamp-my-feet, all-out frustration.
We’re missing a trick here. And worse still, consumers are soon going to wise up to the fact that ‘AI’ really means nothing more than pretty damn smart, but not quite intelligent.
AI, Cars and going back to the future
Concept cars designers have long since seemed to root around in a generic imaginary scrap yard of parts and features – the hidden wheels that are so hidden it seems to suggest that soon, our dreams of Total Recall hover cars are going to become reality; those side lifting doors that are most definitely obligatory and strangely Back to the Future Delorean-esque (seriously, if they didn’t take off in the 80’s, I’m really not sure why they would now).
But asides from questions about style, do they have any substance – do they provide a subtext for what’s to come?
Showcasing their wears were Nissan, Audi, BMW, Faraday Future and just about every car manufacturer under the sun (a sun that notably has failed to start solar powering our cars – as was suggested by Ford’s concept car back at CES 2014).
Features included BMW’s floating displays; Faraday’s impressive 1000 horse power beast; and Nissan’s ability to grab control of a car where dangerous circumstances arise (with a special nod granted to Mercedes-Benz, who demoed their autonomous drone-like delivery van).
But with so much hustle and bustle at CES, I wonder whether they have any inkling that driverless cars may well be much ado about nothing. A recent survey found that consumers still remain uncertain as to whether they want anything more than car tech that can park for them, stop an accident or prevent their car from being stolen.
Perhaps we simply don’t trust tech in this way – if so, the question is, will we ever? Consumer trust hasn’t been helped by the much publicised Tesla fatality, although it must be said that less attention has been paid to the Tesla owner saved by his own car (that’s despite the autopilot not even being engaged).
In any event – all this may well be by the by. Even if there is appetite, there are other stumbling blocks too. As Kevin Clark chief executive of Delphi (a company launching its own concept car at CES), points out:
“The reality is that the tech exists today… the biggest problem for the manufacturers is the cost, legal and liability responsibilities.” – Kevin Clark chief executive of Delphi
It seems then that the realm of driverless cars are potentially as unwanted and challenged as AI gadgets are lacking in actual AI. And that, is why my week at CES was bitter sweet – so much promise, so little delivered. But there’s always next year, right? Tell me what you think