Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2019 – featuring Artificial Intelligence

The future of Artificial Intelligence

Editorial –  Stabroek News – 09 January 2019

While the rest of the world is still busy adjusting to the commencement of the New Year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the world’s largest technology convention kicked off last Sunday in Las Vegas, Nevada, with most of the world’s leading electronic giants holding press conferences to announce their latest innovations.

The annual show which opened to the public on Monday January 7, 2019 covers 2.75 million square feet of exhibit space and the 180,000 expected attendees from 155 countries will be privy to a first-hand view of the future of electronic gadgetry driven by the rapidly expanding field of Artificial Intelligence in twenty-four categories.          

The latest eye-catching products on display from 4,500 companies include the usual suspects of the newest models of ‘smart’ phones, wireless earbuds, watches and televisions. The Chinese electric carmaker Byton on Sunday unveiled its first model, the M-Byte, a crossover SUV, which will feature a new steering wheel mounted driver interface system which “will stand still while the steering wheel rotates” according to its CEO Carsten Breitfeld.

However, visitors will also be confronted with conventional household items such as ovens, washing machines, refrigerators, and toilets which can now respond to internet driven ‘smart’ technology as security cameras and thermostats currently do. One manufacturer’s oven is ‘smart’ enough to sync with your digital calendar and recommend recipes based upon the time you have available. It also features a display on its glass door indicating where to place the item in the appliance for optimal cooking whilst coordinating various recipes so one does not focus solely on the entrée. The oven can be complemented by a tap (from another manufacturer) in your kitchen which dispenses the correct amount of water for recipes.

Other household amenities benefitting from voice driven technology include refrigerators which allow one to check its contents whilst grocery shopping and washing machines which send alerts to smart devices informing you that your laundry is done.  Toilets will now respond to an app or voice commands to raise or lower the seat, or to flush. The toilet, which is also heated, can also play music or news through its speakers upon request.

Medical devices which are now ‘smarter’ include a heart monitor which also has a digital stethoscope which one can press on the chest while another is attached to your finger allowing it to take an electrocardiogram. The monitor, which is capable of detecting irregular heartbeat and valvular heart disease with medical-grade accuracy, is awaiting US Food and Drug Administration approval.

For the security conscious folks, a voice activated smart doorbell is now available with a high definition camera with a 160 degree wide angle lens which can be linked to the outside security lighting system. Another developer has released a security system which utilizes a multi-sensor to detect the opening of windows and doors, motion, smoke, carbon monoxide, water leaks and temperature changes.

On a more personal note technology driven mirrors can assess your skin for wrinkles, fine lines, dark circles and pores, whilst the exercise oriented personality need no longer worry about the battery of his/her smartwatch dying during a triathlon since the device can now be charged by thermometric and solar means. Yes, your own body heat and the sun will suffice. Another new product announced allows your conversation to be translated into twenty-seven different languages on the fly.

These latest devices often come with a hefty price tag yet consumers are all the rage about acquiring them. Twenty-nine million smart doorbells, thermostats and switches are projected to be sold in the USA alone this year, a 23 percent increase on last year’s sales. With 5G set to be switched on in several countries around the world, IDC, a research firm, expects 1.3 billion smart devices will be purchased in 2022, twice as many in 2018.

Are consumers aware that with every additional smart device in their home, companies are gathering more details about their daily lives? These details can be used by advertisers to target consumers more precisely than they could with the information uplifted from their smartphone.

“Its decentralized surveillance,” according to Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based digital privacy advocate. “We’re living in a world where we’re tethered to some online service stealthily gathering our information.”

As Artificial Intelligence continues to move to the forefront of our daily lives should we be asking ourselves how far it will go? Like everything else in life there are pros and cons to be weighed. The benefits include fewer errors since decisions taken by machines are based on algorithms and machines do not get tired and can work continuously. These advantages are of course coupled with the loss of jobs.

As our dependence on machines driven by Artificial Intelligence increase and they continue to assimilate information on our daily activities we can only ponder the long term effect. Will Artificial Intelligence one day develop a machine that can go beyond its thinking zone, which at present is restricted by the algorithms it has being trained for, and think creatively or outside the box?

For now, we have to make the judgement call, something Artificial Intelligence has not mastered as yet. The CES runs until Friday January 11, 2019.


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