A Brave New World

A Brave New World

Someday I am going to get my act together in early January and make it out to the famous Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to experience firsthand what it is like to be a kid in the ultimate (tech) candy shop! I’m not one for crowds but the idea of being able to see the future in all its glory would be pretty gratifying. Given that I have to sometimes live vicariously through others—and that our ‘plan B’ if the government is still shut down on February 4th is to have a quick rap on technology hurtling down the pike that is going to expand rural broadband networks and change the face and skills of the American workforce—I am sharing the story that our vice president of policy, Josh Seidemann, wrote this week after his own CES adventure. More to follow at RTIME!

CES 2019: Wrapup and Impressions

By Joshua Seidemann, Vice President of Policy, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

January 17, 2019

(Read parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 online.)

On the way out to CES this year, I was reminded of the early-1990’s AT&T commercials that predicted such things as on-demand TV, distance education, remote security systems, and voice-recognition for consumer use. The voice-over acknowledged that we were not then reaping those benefits, but promised, “You will.”

It’s not CES without robots. Or, half-robots.

And now we are. Those advertisements are a salient reminder that, to paraphrase Longfellow, what at first may seem the spark of imagination is often future’s distant lamps. Stated differently, what you see at CES is probably less prediction and more prophecy. So, when the chair of IBM said last week that the bend and vibration of our fingernails coupled with AI and deep learning will enable early diagnoses for Parkinson’s and other diseases, I accept that as within the realm of possibility.

Yes, it’s connected . . .

Of course, concern may attend wonder. Delta built a full biometric terminal in Atlanta. Relying on facial recognition technology, travelers do not need to reach for a passport or ticket and can get through customs more rapidly and with greater security. Convenient? Yes. Creepy? Depends. Technology is touching everything less obtrusively and more comprehensively.

If someone reveals a technological vision and says, “You will,” I’ll agree. And if you ask whether our educational systems must be prepared, I’ll agree again.

My take-aways from CES this year? There were several. First, the automotive section seemed the largest ever. A few years ago, a Tesla was on the show floor, and there were “add-ons” on display—car electronics such as cameras or devices for law enforcement—but the presence of major auto manufacturers was limited. This year, the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center felt like a full-fledged auto show, with entries from FCA, KIA, Nissan and others. Autonomous vehicles and associated technology were highlighted by many manufacturers.

Second, health-care, well-being and fitness seemed larger, too. More devices, more vendors, more sports and training equipment from golf ranges to batting cages to hockey to racquet ball. And, while the technology seemed generally iterative of what has been on display in the past, there was more of it. It’s no longer novel or surprising to see a connected baseball bat.

Third, and perhaps most important: what’s connected, and what’s app based. The Wall Street Journal last weekend featured a story that asked whether the smartphone market is saturated and proposed that we are moving to a new trend in which devices will communicate independent of an associated phone. But, and I suggest this is the rub, the narrative is no longer one that harks back to the old BASF commercials (“We don’t make the paint, we make it brighter”). It is no longer about, “We took a toothbrush and made it better by connecting it.” Rather, the narrative is that virtually every device that emerges is designed to rely upon a connection for full exploitation of its offerings.

It does not 3D print fingernails. Rather, it prints artwork on existing nails. It drew a large crowd.

Yes, this implicates privacy; yes, this implicates the need for connectivity (and a lot of it). But, it also implicates another need, one that was raised in a panel discussion that focused on education.

As our world becomes more complex—as the everyday devices and interactions upon which we rely are embedded with increasing technology—the task of imagining, designing, creating, implementing and maintaining those devices will demand high-tech skills. And this speaks to the future of education, and whether the current system that was created to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution will be sufficient to keep pace with the Virtual Revolution.

As one speaker asked, who ever imagined that “app developer” would be a job?

And, for all of the technology—for all of the deep learning and AI and automation—so-called “soft skills” represent seven of the top ten skills that are in demand by major employers. Uniquely human skills such as thinking, problem solving, empathy and collaboration.

My take-aways from CES this year? I’m still not sure how I feel about the biometric Delta terminal in Atlanta. But if someone reveals a technological vision and says, “You will,” I’ll agree. And if you ask whether our educational systems must be prepared, I’ll agree again.

Some new tech I saw . . .

OrCam MyMe A small wearable combines a microphone and a 13MP camera to provide facial recognition and text recognition capabilities. Combined with AI, it can act as an electronic service device for the visually impaired. It can also be used by sighted people to link printed materials such as business cards to faces and to group contacts based on frequency of personal interactions.

KAIZIN A hearing aid utilizes AI to “learn” environments and to tailor noise and enhancement and cancellation to the user’s preference automatically. The firm cites an article that links untreated hearing loss to cognitive decline.

Lumen A breathalyzer-type device measures whether the user is converting fats or carbs to fuel, and plans daily diets based on the previous day’s food, activity and sleep.

Giant Google Gumball machine. I did not wait the estimated 120 minutes to try whatever contest was being peddled.

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