This post is a bit meta. It is about an event that I attended that was about an event that I didn’t attend.

Let me explain. I missed the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, but was fortunate to attend the Paley Center for Media’s (PCM) “Best of CES 2018” event last Thursday night. Every year, immediately following CES, PCM (a Morrison & Foerster client) convenes a panel of well-known tech industry commentators to discuss the most interesting technologies and technology trends that they discovered at CES. For attendees of PCM’s event, it feels like getting all of the benefits of CES without having to deal with the crowds and long lines (or even booking a flight to Las Vegas).

This year’s PCM panel members, all of whom had spent the prior week at CES, consisted of Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal, Dana Wollman of Engadget, Shelly Palmer of the Palmer Group and Advancit Capital’s Jon Miller, who served as the moderator.

Normally this is the sort of event that I would have live tweeted via our @MoFoSocMedia Twitter account—but I’m a slow typist and the panelists had way too many interesting insights per minute for me to keep up. On the other hand, it seems selfish not to share what I learned, so I’m writing this informal summary of the event—essentially, the best of the “Best of CES 2018.”

My notes from the panel presentation did not always indicate which panelists made which observations, so my apologies in advance for not always attributing a particular insight to a particular panelist. I do note that all three panelists and the moderator were brilliant.

So here we go:

Two Major Trends

The panelists agreed that this year was a transitional year for CES; the focus appeared to be more on consolidating technological advances from recent years rather than on revolutionary new breakthroughs.

Many new products featured at CES incorporated both AI and voice activation, the two biggest trends at the conference this year. Those products included “smart” appliances that respond to voice commands. Apparently we can expect to see AI-driven, voice-activated showers (with “disco mode”), mirrors, pillows and even toilets in the very near future . . . .

Several of the panelists observed that voice-activation platforms are likely to be the gateway to greater public acceptance of robots; after all, a robot in the home is essentially an Alexa or Google Home device that moves.

Vehicles of the Future

Cars are always a big part of the CES experience, and this year was no different. Shelly Palmer was particularly impressed by the Olli, an electric, mostly 3D-printed, self-driving vehicle holding up to 10 people. It was created with extensive input from people with disabilities, to help ensure that their needs are addressed. Check it out here; it does look very cool.

The panelists also raved about Byton, a China-based startup that is developing a “Level 4” self-driving car that, in place of a dashboard, has a huge screen for watching movies, reading the news, checking your social media accounts and so forth. Dana Wollman noted that, while the predominant “narrative” regarding autonomous vehicles has been how to keep people safe, Byton’s gigantic screen highlights an emerging new narrative: What will we be doing in our vehicles once we no longer have to drive them? More information regarding Byton’s prototype vehicle (including a photo of its dashboard-replacing screen) can be found here.

While on the topic of autonomous vehicles, Shelly Palmer made this fascinating observation: Although self-driving cars may be safer than traditional cars, there will be accidents involving self-driving cars; when such accidents occur, the costs of repairing a self-driving car will be much higher than they would be to repair a traditional car. That’s because cutting-edge technology is embedded throughout a self-driving cars.

For example, a cracked headlight will contain expensive, sophisticated sensors that will need to be replaced, the replacement sensors will need to be aligned with the car’s other sensors, and the repaired car will need to be tested to ensure that everything is in fact in alignment. In contrast, with a traditional car, a cracked headlight can usually be quickly and cheaply repaired.

The Television Arms Race and “The Wall”

Regarding TVs, Dana Wollman noted that the major theme at CES was “the arms race to 8K” picture quality. Yet other panelists pointed out the oddity of TV manufacturers’ focus on 8K, given that 4K TVs had yet to be embraced by the market (when the moderator asked how many audience members owned a 4K TV, only a few hands went up—this at an event filled with people in the media industry).

The panelists agreed that the biggest TV-related buzz at CES 2018 was Samsung’s “The Wall,” a 146-inch TV that can be expanded or reduced by adding or removing Lego-like “tiles.” As Shelly Palmer noted, once we have wall-sized TVs with 8K picture quality, where do TV manufacturers go from there? Will they have run out of problems requiring a solution? Here’s a link to additional information regarding The Wall (including a photo).

Our Ping Pong-Playing Robot Overlords

Regarding robots, Omron’s ping pong-playing robot created a big buzz; imagine the massive amount of processing power needed for a robot to be sufficiently quick and responsive to compete in ping pong with human players. A video of the Omron robot can be found here—definitely worth watching. It’s embarrassing enough that robots can beat us humans in chess—but ping pong?

The panelists noted that, at CES 2018, there appeared to be an effort to address the creepiness factor associated with robots. In particular, robot developers appear to be moving away from anthropomorphic robots to robots modeled after dogs and other non-human forms—the cuter, the better.

Key Takeaways

In his concluding thoughts, Shelly Palmer observed that, despite the proliferation of data-gathering devices, the tech industry is still struggling with how to turn data into action. He viewed this as one of his key takeaways from this year’s CES.

Joanna Stern highlighted a growing public concern over how social media and other technologies that promised to foster human interaction are increasingly viewed as disrupting human interaction.

Building on Ms. Stern’s point, Jon Miller noted studies showing that the use of the “phone” function on smart phones—perhaps the most purely “social” function on a smart phone—is decreasing. (I briefly looked into this after the Paley Center event, and stumbled across this interesting article on how 40% of smart phone users say they could do without a call function on their smart phones.)

The event ended with an anecdote about how comedian David Chappelle performed shows last year where audience members were required to place their mobile phones inside locked pouches designed to prevent phone use during Chappelle’s performance. Could the hot trend at next year’s CES be technology designed to reduce our dependence on technology?