The supposed zeitgeist of the tech world is CES, a glitz-and-glam tech conference in Las Vegas, which started as the Consumer Entertainment Show and now fills the side columns in the newspapers when there isn’t much else going on.

Sometimes, looking back at old CES articles is like a game of “where are they now” – 3D TV is the most striking “big thing” to have withered on the vine (albeit like a televisual yoyo it has made an appearance every decade since CES started in 1967, even predating it; and Toshiba has a glasses-free model on show this year). Curved TVs burst into view in 2014 but behaved like a disappointing firework. Curved PC monitors persist but TVs benefits were generally negated by the quality of experience in LED/OLED/QLED 8k TVs. The Metaverse now perennially loiters in the wings, with Meta’s hope that we will all migrate into a virtual environment à la Ready Player One some way off. Our belief persists that education/training and entertainment will benefit greatly from virtual environments: and the influence of lighter weight headsets from Apple, Lenovo, and HTC, can’t be understated in taking VR and AR (Augmented Reality) more mainstream, and benefitting companies such as ENGAGE XR. We often wonder when robots will become mainstream – combined with haptic technology (touch) then robots to deliver physical pleasure may one day be acceptable. They can even be designed to look like your partner, so as to avoid any psychological concept of infidelity – will you be brave enough to specify one of your partner, but a version closer to when they were 26 or so, instead of their current post Christmas middle aged deportment?! If they agree to the general concept, they shouldn’t mind the specifics?! Good luck.

It wouldn’t surprise you that unavoidable and predictable buzz this year is AI, whether real or not:  ridiculous gimmicks such as a hoover that learns and adjusts to floor types in your house; or the hypochondriac’s dream of a loo that monitors your various outputs, and alerts you to health concerns (a sh*t idea?!); and a fridget that suggests recipes from its own current contents. These are “bandwagon” ideas, mere alternatives or elaborations to existing solutions – and often simply increased chances for otherwise simple gadgets to go wrong. 

AI is spoken of generically as a revolution but I still can’t help thinking of it as evolution. First came the cloud which enabled big data; then came machine learning enabled by big data, with AI the consequence of the algorithms’ application within an ML environment. ChatGPT is Generative AI, which is a specific form of AI – something that creates new things in the style of old things, based on amassing all the data it can source to establish the pattern in the old things, eg a painting in the style of Renoir, a track in the style of The Beatles.

Most AI is for deeper analysis of existing data which we’ve never had the capacity to process. Radio 4 reported this week that AI has processed and analysed sufficient data to show patterns linking fingerprints from the different digits of a same person, previously thought to be unrelated. This can help with crime solving; in life sciences, the average time taken for drug discovery could now reduce from 5 to 2 years; there are many more positive examples of Big Data 2.0, and most of our corporate clients will benefit their internal processes, and their customers’ experiences. Like Blockchain to asset registration, after the hype has distracted the media and focused in the wrong direction, it will become fundamental to customer experience practices.

The next leap will be when the techniques used for AI (bulk data processing and analytics) is combined with quantum computing. Inconceivable levels of real time analysis will bring Orwellian dystopia one step closer, some will say – if social media hasn’t already delivered it in the echo chambers in which we now all dwell. The underappreciated Netcall (and others) combination of Low-code and robotic process automation hasn’t led to Thatcherite levels of structural redeployment of labour (yet), but to an even greater extent AI could certainly put many procedural tasks at risk, while lifting margins for those companies which harness it most effectively.

CES celebrating gimmicks is the inevitable consequence of media focus, usually on the wrong thing. Aside from the risk of mass structural unemployment, on the plus side shopping will be easier and customer service will be a delight. Nothing tends to happen as quickly or extremely as expected though – so let’s hope my flippancy remains amusing when we look back in 20 years.

Happy Friday