CES 2018 kicks off with cars, phones and artificial intelligence

by Steve Blum • ,

I’m en route to CES (don’t dare call it the Consumer Electronics Show anymore) for my annual exercise in continuing education. It’s a total geek holiday, but the fun you get out of it is directly proportional to the work you do. There’s a lot to learn.

Self driving cars are the market segment where mobile broadband, artificial intelligence and consumer electronics intersect, and it’ll be well represented at CES. I’ll be alert for clues as to how manufacturers and platform operators intend to balance on-board processing with real time data connectivity. The more it shifts towards the latter, the more the rollout of autonomous vehicles will be defined by mobile carriers rather than the industry itself.

I’ve discussed the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and voice recognition systems – two sides of the same coin, really – and the collapse of the consumer electronic industry into a two product market – big screens and smartphones in previous blog posts. CES should offer insight into where those trends are headed in 2018. In particular, I’ll be interested in seeing new core AI technology.

Two product categories that I’ve been following since before they were categories – wearables and home automation – have exploded. A user-friendly charging solution for wearables, smart phones and the other electronic bits that we carry around with us still hasn’t emerged, and I’ll be looking for any indication that one might. At some point, the home automation market will consolidate into standard solutions – a scattering of smartphone apps? in home hubs? voice recognition platforms? – and I’ll watch for signs of that too.

It’s a disappointment that Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai has bailed on the show, although it’s for a legitimate, and unfortunate, reason – the planned appearance sparked a presidential level of death threats. It’s been a CES tradition for FCC chairs to sit down and talk with Gary Shapiro, CEO of the show’s sponsor, the Consumer Technology Association. Unlike other trade association honchos, Shapiro asks intelligent and interesting questions, and isn’t shy about pressing for meaningful answers. Three other FCC commissioners – Brendan Carr, Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly – are still on the program, but that’s typically been a softball session moderated by an emollient minion.

As always, what I’m really looking for are surprises, new products, services and technology that I have no idea even exists. In that regard, CES never disappoints.