The Eye of the Storm
When it comes to technology, everything new is new again
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