Missing from CES: Addressing the Greater Good

CES attendees know that it’s essentially impossible to see everything.  But among the three of us here at Research Narrative who attended CES 2018, we covered a lot of territory. And we all agreed on one thing: two prevalent technology opportunities seemed curiously absent.

MISSING: HELP US COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE

Perhaps the biggest surprise at CES this year didn’t come from technology, but rather, from nature.  Early in the week, most of us arrived to the unusual circumstance of desert rain.  The outdoor (and apparently not waterproof) Google tent had to close up shop on Day 1; attendees stepped off curbs into surprise puddles. We kept our senses of humor – after all, wet shoes seemed fairly inconsequential compared to the news from Montecito, where houses were sliding off hills after a month of severe fires and now unstoppable mudslides. Rain in Vegas was surprising, but not particularly catastrophic.

And then, right in the center of VR exhibits, OLED displays, and smart-home showcases, the power went out.

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we are woefully unprepared for the increasing volume of extreme weather events taking place. We were unprepared for the floods of Houston, the destruction of the electrical grid in Puerto Rico, the fires throughout California, and now, the rains in Montecito and Las Vegas.

There are plenty of goodwill tech ventures at CES – I came across tech to update a vision prescription for only $30, tech to measure my breathing (and asthma) while I swim laps, and tech to remove toxins from a living room.  But in and among the BabyTech, Health and Fitness Tech, Media Tech, Smart Home Tech, Auto Tech,  Gadget Tech, and endless aisles of drones, one societally relevant category seems altogether missing: Crisis Management Tech.

Why aren’t we dedicating more resources to technology that solves mass-scale problems? Where were the innovative forms of water removal, fire extinguishing or temporary power? If there’s one area of technology that I’d like to see emerge at CES, it’s technology that might literally save the world.

AND SPEAKING OF CRISIS MANAGEMENT…

Another question remains curiously un-answered: how is tech going to address the vulnerabilities it introduces into our home? It’s almost as if engineers just tuned out the consequences of the Experian leaks, fake news controversies, recent emergence of Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, IoT’s general dependence on the internet and power grid are inherently certain to create mass-scale problems. A little rain took down a Google exhibit and Central Hall, and  trapped cell phones in inoperable charging lockers. Imagine what experienced hackers could accomplish.

We will get hacked; it seems quite inevitable. So what’s the action plan when our smart-everything is compromised? We will occasionally lose power, so how will my smart home still operate? We will run into problems with too many drones in public airspace, and violations of privacy. Why are we needing the FAA step in to regulate that; why isn’t tech making the vaguest efforts to self-regulate? We will hit bandwidth constraints, so how are all these electronics companies contributing to the build-out of infrastructure? (Hint: most of them aren’t. Why do you think behemoth companies are fighting for net neutrality? Bandwidth is expensive, and it isn’t the little guys hijacking it all.)

We understand these issues will be addressed addressed in due time but the stark reality is that we need to stop releasing tech before we’ve proactively prepared ourselves for the consequences it brings. There remains a fine line between brilliant innovation and willful ignorance. If we want to see these technologies truly change our lives for good, a greater sense of responsibility might be in order.

What themes did we see this year? Click here to read our take on themes from CES 2018.


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