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Quantum leaps, or incremental steps? My take on the highlights and over-engineered devices of CES 2019

Rush Digital CTO and founder Danu Abeysuriya reports back from the front lines of CES 2019 and says although the tech on show at the event wasn't a dramatic leap forward, it did debut incremental improvements and delivering on long issued promises – and with the right perspective, these incremental steps were actually a pretty big deal.

Godwin’s Law: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

The equivalent of this in tech circles is: “As an online discussion about technology grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Apple or the iPhone approaches one.

This year’s CES will draw out the tech-Godwin's law. I apologise in advance, but you have also been warned.

Firstly, let’s pick out some of my highlights at CES this year:

  • Some incredible robots and AI  Samsung’s Bot Care, Air, Retail, and GEMS exo-suite (quite a showing there, Samsung!) and the Ubtech full bipedal robot assistant for the elderly. The exo-suites are so compact and discrete, and the other offerings demonstrated clever design, achievability and ambition. Seeing these working demos is nothing short of impressive to me. A lot more devices have basic AI intrinsic built in, from TVs changing settings for you to Fridges predicting the grocery lists, it’s nice to see these refinement applications of basic AI making it into the wild.
  • Smart furnishings – Mui smart wood plank (eyeroll worthy but hear me out on this a bit later) and the LG roll-away TV. The elusive flexible display (remember the newspapers in Minority report?) something promised literally decades ago, with the concept fighting for much longer. It’s actually amazing to see this finally a reality.
  • Some amazing health tech and wearables – Orig3n DNA tests (do you have the genetics to excel at running?), the Withings smart watches and Beddr Sleep Tuner. I especially love the Withings devices: affordable, beautiful and an 18-month battery life.
     


Withings devices
 

Of course, there’s always a deluge of embarrassingly over-engineered devices that, when the world is out of rare metals and too desolate to sustain life much longer, will no doubt make this short clip from Interstellar bring over a sense of melancholy. Do we really need a Bluetooth enabled baby diaper soilage sensor, and at what cost are you really “solving” that problem?

So there are some specifics from the show, but the macro-trend is really what I’m getting giddy about. Godwin probability sitting steady at 0.1.

A while ago I wrote about how I fantasise about technology being unobvious, hidden away, a Casper-like friendly ghost whose presence is felt when things move around but you can’t quite explain how – I genuinely believe the best technology looks and feels like magic, is discrete and is one step ahead of you. I would love a world where you were completely unshackled from technology, but able to get the best from it.

Many of the innovations and incremental product revisions at this year’s CES demonstrate immense promise, especially to technologists such as myself who enthusiastically dream about what these products might be like in a decade or so. While progress is steady, many of these great ideas still aren’t quite there. Sad.

There is a silver lining though. We are so desensitised to how far we’ve come, just looking back at my childhood dreams involving the Honda E-series robots to what was on show at CES, we’ve done some amazing things engineering wise that mean we’re on the cusp of a great team taking an idea that’s been around a little while, like say, oh I dunno, an MP3 playing walkman... and just making it magical.

Godwin probability now a firm 0.5 and climbing.


Ubtech robot assistant

This CES, we can safely say there were no real big moments. The new tech we saw was based on more incremental improvement or delivering on long issued promises. Many might see this as a bit of a disappointment, but the fascinating thing is that some of these incremental steps were actually pretty gosh-darn-big. These steps were toward transparent and really discrete technology.

Technologies like the (finally) production ready rollable TV from LG has enabled beautiful design that magically hides itself away in a relatively small space in a sort of David Copperfield-like optical illusion. The Samsung GEMS, AI assistants and other robots will enable an individual who wouldn’t be mobile or self-sufficient to magically go about their lives easier. The Impossible burger has enabled us to be able to magically enjoy a delicious meat burger without slaughtering an animal or contributing to global warming. All this just by chipping away at it, taking steps and becoming more and more like a great waiter or bartender on a date – there, but not.

There were no big iPhone moments, and we haven’t quite yet “done an Apple Inc.” on any of these ideas, but the steps were big, and it’s great to see other companies and startups now living in this world of refined design and discrete, magical technology.

The future is bright, and the Tech-Godwin’s law seemingly holds true, for me at least.

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