Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: CES Excess

By Dennis Hinkamp

As a kid, I never wanted a pony; I wanted a robot. As proof that we never really grow up, one of my life goals has been to go to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Imagine, if you will, a drunken mob of 180,000 people with laser eyes locked on the stripper pole of tech.

I am not exaggerating. CES defies exaggeration. I logged 15 miles on my smart watch trekking through convention halls and I still didn’t see it all. Here’s what I saw as trends.

Robots: We’ve had robots all over the house for at least a couple decades—your toaster, oven, washing machine and anything with a timer and heat sensor is a robot of sorts. The show presented an army of companion robots this year that mainly still look like an iPad stuck on top of a self-propelled upright vacuum cleaner. They can read to your kids, entertain the dog and in some fuzzy logic sort of way assess your mood. They have blinking eyes and an expressive virtual face, but they’re still sort of creepy.

But the best robots are the ones that do stuff you cannot or would rather not do. For instance, someone finally invented a window-cleaning robot. The show also introduced a table tennis-playing robot the size of a garage; I wonder if it might turn on you if it lost. This is the problem with all robots: They could go bad. We are not far enough removed from popular science fiction movies not to believe it to be so.

Smart everything: How smart do you want your house to be? Everything already beeps or buzzes when it has ended its task or is angered that you left a door ajar. This new batch of smart home stuff includes a mirror that gives you a read on your skin health and probably secretly laughs at your appearance or attire. Or leers at you if you’ve no attire at all (which would seem to have horrible hacking implications). If your mind has not gone there already, yes, there were also smart toilets. They do way more than flush (which is more than I want to know).

Sensors: This was the year of sensors—in everything from your shoes to your hat and from your car to your dog’s personalized feeding station. All these sensors are quietly collecting data in their smart way to send to your smart phone or maybe to Russian hackers.

Autonomous vehicles: Driverless cars are coming sooner than you think. The first humans to topple to the robot vehicle revolution will be delivery drivers of any kind. Some vehicles will look like motorized ice chests and others like old Volkswagen vans that leak less oil.

Of course the natural progression is to the smart city where traffic can be rerouted quickly and every car knows where every other car is all the time; what could go wrong?

Everybody is talking and listening: I’ve had Alexa, the Amazonian talking tower, for several years now. Siri, Hey Google, PC Cortana and Samsung’s Bixby have joined her in a coven of voice recognition technology. Now you can connect all of them to your smart aleck home devices and car and have them do your dirty work.

This may sound frightening, but consider that not that long ago many people believed scanning bar codes in grocery stores would ruin everything.

Much technology may be silly.. Some causes more problems than it solves. Then there’s the tech we are most grateful for. Who would want to fly into a metro airport and rely only on the vision and sobriety of the 100 pilots all converging at the same time?

Dennis Hinkamp says that he now wants a robot pony.

This article was originally published on February 1, 2018.