Viva Las Vegas!

Paul Laville, managing director, T21There’s always a lot of hype around CES and as a proper card-carrying, uber-geek myself, I love it, says T21 Group’s Paul Laville. But product concepts born in Las Vegas are finding their way into our homes as well, which is really exciting!

I want more hype because for me CES is all about The Dream, and Las Vegas – a city removed from reality in so many ways – really is the best place to experience it and be transported by visions of Utopian futures and better worlds. The comedown kicks in on the plane home, but for those few intense days working your 10,000 steps and then some, it’s almost delirious.

For the last few years, 4K and 8K TV, 5G, smart devices, autonomous cars, robots and connected homes have dominated the glittering halls of CES, and although the dreams of many excited demonstrators and journalists have faded, a lot of that technology is now firmly embedded in the homes, hearts and minds of our consumers. Smart technology is no longer an alien concept. 4K TV is now mostly just ‘TV’ and smart speakers are the norm. So where does it go from here?

One of the things that spiked my attention this year originated (I believe) from Steve Koenig of the Consumer Technology Association, who mentioned in his keynote speech that the Internet of Things (IoT) is evolving. Now, he said, we will start to see IoT transform into ‘the Intelligence of Things’.

To me this is interesting because it isn’t just a matter of substituting one word of an acronym to make it sound cooler, it’s actually a real paradigm- shift conveying a key difference between the present generation of smart technology and its nascent successor.

Context is everything, and in current AI-based products it is sorely lacking. Siri can tell me, for example, that when I set off in my car it’ll take 20 minutes to get to ‘work’, but it tells me that even if I’m heading out to the supermarket, which makes this artificial intelligence pretty dumb and largely redundant. But if Siri was able to learn the context for my journey and have the best route planned and plugged into my sat-nav already, it’d be far more useful.

In theory it could already do some of this by taking data from my calendar and overlaying it with information in the Cloud: real-time traffic updates, weather, road closures and so forth. But it doesn’t. Even if it did, that information is rarely up to the minute because it’s dependant on so many other systems within the IoT. (Don’t even get me started on every brands’ incompatible ecosystems.)

If all those systems worked together intelligently, however, and if Siri was able to pick out what it needed specifically, then we’d really be able to start talking about how AI makes my life a little bit easier. And that is IoT as ‘the Intelligence of Things’ rather than ‘the Internet of Things’. That is The Dream.

Applied to consumer electronics the possibilities are widespread: ovens that detect food placed in them and which learn your preferences to cook it perfectly; televisions aligned more closely to streaming services that fully understand the viewing habits of your household; smart meters that actually are ‘smart’ and don’t rely on an app to save you money; voice activated assistants and robots that have a usefulness beyond merely playing music and scaring the dog!

Still a mirage dream in the desert? Maybe not. For AI systems to learn context they need data – lots of it. Big data in fact, which is out there and getting bigger all the time.

Importantly they’ve got to be able to access it quickly and reliably, which requires a massive network infrastructure and super-capable transmission.

Which brings me to 5G and beyond – already existent in key cities and expanding. We’re yet to see widespread systems and products taking advantage of it, but even a quick visit to CES will show you that they’re coming for sure. Undoubtedly 5G will be the key enabler for ‘the Intelligence of Things’ and many new enterprises. Whether it also means the doom of humanity and the coming of Skynet I’ll leave you to decide, but I’m very excited to see what happens when the visions born at Vegas find a life of their own outside it.