While other people are busying themselves wondering what this new year holds in store for politics and world affairs (which are of course important), I generally focus my attention on what is taking place at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which was held last week in Las Vegas (where else?).
After all, technology is also very political, and shapes our lives in some very important and sometimes frightening ways. Just consider how many recent political issues revolve around technology–from Russian hacking to the ever-increasing proliferation of tweets. So, with all this in mind, let’s take a look at how the stuff revealed at the CES intends to restructure our lives.
First up is something that is always on display at the annual CES–a concept car that may or may not be showing up in our driveways in the near future. A couple of years ago, Toyota brought out a concept car that was in effect a digital screen on wheels. At any time the driver could not only change the car’s color but could also display messages and videos. Imagine what that would do for all those road-rage-infused drivers out there. Needless to say, we haven’t yet seen any of these traveling screens, but at least we know where car design might be headed. This year, the talk of the show (which was on the verge of starting as I wrote this column) was a concept car from Fiat Chrysler. According to its press release, this car “has a long list of features based on 20 years of research into exactly what Millennials want from a car.” Ironically, as is the case with any targeted group, these wish lists are constantly changing, making research that is done more than an hour or so ago pretty outdated.
In any event, what do the folks at Chrysler Fiat think today’s Millennials want? Yes, you guessed it–they want their car to be capable of taking selfies. Seems that the car’s many internal cameras can take a selfie of all the passengers “and then send the image to everyone’s devices so it can be shared on social media.” Wow–yet another way to prevent face-to-face interaction. Do we dare hope that the car’s passengers might ever want to have face-to-face interaction with each other? To create even more barriers to personal interaction from the passengers, the car’s audio system allows each passenger to have their own sound source, without headphones–this is called “zoned audio.” This same kind of system can create on-the-fly playlists from what the passengers are listening to and can even compile a drive-through food order list, including paying for the order. Overwhelmed yet? One last thing before we leave this topic. The press release tells us that the Portal (that’s the tentative name for the new vehicle) uses its exterior cameras, which are equipped with “facial recognition software, to recognize various people approaching the vehicle. That way, the car’s interior and entertainment features can be automatically customized to best suit them.” I guess this might come in handy if the approaching individual is a car-jacker, allowing the audio system to begin playing Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 song “Stolen Car” or cueing up “Grand Theft Auto” on the on-board video game player. How convenient.
This column is not nearly long enough to cover all the goodies on display at the CES, but let’s take a look at some of the more interesting and life-altering gadgets. You know you will need the new Sevenhugs Smart Remote, perhaps the ultimate accessory for your smart home. Apparently, this remote is designed to “work with everything.” For example, you “point the remote at your lamp and you’ll get controls for your “Phillips Hue” light bulbs, point it at your various audio-visual components and you can swipe the screen to select which one you want to control, use it to communicate with your Amazon Echo (but why, you ask?), control your kitchen devices, and presumably activate your automobile’s locks and start engine functions. And to make things even more interesting, you can use it with Uber. That’s right, you “point the remote at your front door, select one of your preset destinations, and a car will be ordered for you.” Wonder if this works for pizza delivery? And with those pesky neighbors and relatives who you want to disappear? All this for only three hundred bucks.
How about a refrigerator that uses Amazon’s new Alexa voice assistant to order the items you are running low on or are out of? We’ve known about smart fridges for some time, but this LG monstrosity (the Smart InstaView) is the latest and greatest. Its front door is a large screen that can used to view what’s inside, to place orders, to surf the Net, and maybe even to catch up with the latest episode of “The Walking Dead.” And, yes, it will let you know when your carton of milk reaches its expiration date, and will even text you a picture of the item or items that need to be restocked, so you can stop at the store on your way home. Don’t forget to take your new universal remote with you so you can point to the item and conveniently add it to your cart.
For those of you who want the thinnest TV possible, you need to check out the new LG W7 TV that is as thin as wallpaper and “hangs on your wall like a picture.” That’s right–no more bulky and ugly mounting hardware. Just one very thin cord and a magnetic strip is all that is needed to drape it flush to your wall. And what’s the price, you ask? Although no firm price has been announced, the buzz is that it will retail for somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000.00 (of course, it will be cheaper by Black Friday).
Last but not least is the arrival of more sophisticated and more uncanny (as in scary) personal robots. One example is Kuri, from Mayfield robotics, a being that is described as an “Amazon Echo with legs.” For only seven hundred bucks you can adopt Kuri, a “real live robot,” as it (or he or she) is described on heykuri.com. If this isn’t scary enough, you should know that “Kuri quickly learns your home’s floor plan, where stairs are, and which room belongs to whom.” and also “learns the rhythm of your household, can wake you up in time for work and greet you when you come home at night.” And, perhaps most unnerving, Kuri is “so friendly that kids instantly make a new friend.” Wonder if Kuri knows how to take a selfie?
See you next week with more news from the world of pop culture and amazing gadgetry.