The Eye of the Storm

When it comes to tech­nol­ogy, ev­ery­thing new is new again

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT -

As we bar­rel head­long into the NewYear, it’s more abun­dantly clear than ever that we are in the midst of a tech­nol­ogy vor­tex. Each new in­no­va­tion begets tens of thou­sands of new ideas each feed­ing off the oth­ers to cre­ate even more in­no­va­tion. To call it a revo­lu­tion is al­most disin­gen­u­ous, too tame an anal­ogy, since revolutions usu­ally have a be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end. For the cur­rent cli­mate of change, there is no ap­par­ent end in sight. Thus a more apt metaphor might be a hur­ri­cane – a big, world­wide so­cial, eco­nomic and (these days) po­lit­i­cal whirl­wind that shows no signs of slow­ing.

Over the last half-century, the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show – in the com­mon ver­nac­u­lar “CES”– in Las Ve­gas has pretty much es­tab­lished it­self as the bell­wether that sig­nals the chang­ing winds in this storm. The first CES was in 1967 in NewYork, with a hand­ful of ex­hibitors show­ing off such wares as pocket ra­dios and TVs with in­te­grated cir­cuits. (Now be­fore you sneer, re­mem­ber, the first moon land­ing was still two years off and such in­no­va­tions were still pretty Wow.)

Since then, the show has bur­geoned to be­come the go-to venue for all things tech, draw­ing a global ret­inue of some 4,000 ex­hibitors and a world­wide stand­ing among the press corps as the de­fin­i­tive magic mir­ror re­flect­ing the fu­ture.

Once again this year we asked Lark Gould to risk sen­sory over­load and pos­si­ble zom­bie apoc­a­lypse to check out the maze of glitz and techno-babble that in­un­dated Ve­gas last month. What she found at the 50th edi­tion of the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show ( CES@50, page 46) ranged from the pro­found to the seem­ingly silly.

But be­fore we judge these lat­est de­vel­op­ments, let’s re­mem­ber our chuck­les at the pocket ra­dios and TV cir­cuit boards. That’s the prob­lem with be­ing in the mid­dle of a hur­ri­cane – while we may be able to tell the gen­eral di­rec­tion the wind is blow­ing, it’s a force of na­ture, in­her­ently un­pre­dictable. These in­no­va­tions, silly or oth­er­wise, may beget new in­spi­ra­tion that can lead us to who knows where? Flip phones once were cool, then they weren’t; this year, guess what’s back? Fold­able phones. Cool. Are ro­bots tak­ing over the world, or are they just a dif­fer­ent way to do the same work? Self-driv­ing cars and drones of all sizes are gen­er­at­ing news; one pun­dit even pre­dicts that the next gen­er­a­tion won’t even know what it is to drive a car. None of this stuff just ap­peared full-grown at this year’s CES. What we saw last month is the cul­mi­na­tion of last year’s hot new items com­bined with the in­no­va­tions of 10 years ago and all the way back to 1967 to pocket ra­dios and in­te­grated cir­cuits – and even be­yond. Like all hu­man en­ter­prise, tech­nol­ogy stands on the shoul­ders of what came be­fore. As we read the head­lines that come out of Las Ve­gas, and look at the news re­ports and con­sider the new prod­ucts that are on show, it’s fun to gape at the Wow and scoff at the silly. But when we do, we run the risk of over­look­ing pro­found pos­si­bil­i­ties. So read Lark’s CES re­port and ev­ery­thing else you can about what’s com­ing in tech­nol­ogy. And by all means, in­dulge in sev­eral Wows and a chuckle or two. But then look deeper and imag­ine where any of those changes might take us in the fu­ture. Who knows? The next big brain­storm might just be your own. BT — Dan Booth Edi­to­rial Di­rec­tor

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