DnA Goes to CES

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CES 2016

DnA goes to CES for the first time and meets Girl Scouts, takes a (skeptical) tour of the Internet of Things, and considers sustainability as well as the convergence of art and technology with Adrian Grenier and others in the Dell space.

CES is full of noise and bling; photo by Frances Anderton

Last week I went for the first-time to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. I went to host two panels in the Dell space (more on that in a moment).

For anyone who has never attended the colossal CES, just imagine Las Vegas — disorienting, crowded, and a cacophony of sound and bling. Then overlay on that around 200,000 people, herding through endless showfloors that are even more disorienting, filled with their own cacophony of sound and bling.

CES 2016
Of course wearable technology and health-related Apps were widely displayed. Photo by Frances Anderton

The general mood is very upbeat, because attendees mostly are excited about the potential of technology. The buzz this year seemed to be about VR, self-driving cars and the “Internet of Things.”

Says Doron Wesly, head of marketing for LOTAME (and guest on this DnA), “IOT was for the past three year [talked about] everywhere. However, it never actually connected. And for the first time what we’re seeing here is that IOT is actually connected and there’s interoperability between all of the tech companies. . . it’s really about how finally car and house and your appliances and your phone and your laptop and your laptop are all talking to each other in a very intuitive way.”

Crowd watching display
You can see from this picture that men dominate, even at this fashion photography related display. Photo by Frances Anderton

So what is interoperability? This is how Wesly describes it:

“So let’s say that you’re an Android user and I am an IOS user. You go into your car. You put your phone down. It wirelessly charges. It will know whether it’s an IOS device or an Android device and your display on your car will change accordingly. When you’re driving it will automatically know that you’re leaving your home and all of the devices will start shutting down based on those settings.

As you continue throughout the day you’ll see all of the devices actually connecting with each other and transferring information about weather, your location, what your next appointment is, who your friends are that are nearby, what your immediate needs are, (such as) if your refrigerator is running low on a particular item because it takes snapshots when you close the door.”

Marissa and Doron, CES
Marissa Gluck, left of picture, and Doron Wesly. Photo by Frances Anderton

I couldn’t help being a little skeptical; this was partly because I wonder if one needs a complex system to tell me if the fridge is running low on stuff, but mainly because as Wesly himself pointed out, the Internet of Things is going to generate enormous amounts of data (he estimates two Zettabytes of data on an annual basis, with a Zettabyte sized at a thousand times more than exabytes).

That data, 1, needs a place to be stored (not yet clear where) and, 2, raises all sorts of questions about privacy and what’s happening to our personal information.

Dogs will be connected, CES
What happens to Fido’s data? Photo by Frances Anderton.

Wesly says companies will hold onto it and not share it with the government while Marissa Gluck, an LA-based writer on tech and design, says that while she’s a technology optimist, she’s suspicious of “the promise that the data belongs to the customer,” saying, of course companies “have a vested interest in creating very large and detailed profiles on their customers.”

She expects to see a lot of this playing out in court over the coming years.

Rainbow over desert approaching Las Vegas
This rainbow came after thunderous rains en route to Las Vegas. Photo by Frances Anderton.

There was another reason for feeling a little bit skeptical. I was among thousands of CES attendees who were grounded on the day they travelled by pouring rain and fog, that led to a collapse in connectivity.

Wesly, who was also grounded, says this is a problem now that will be fixed in the near future, and we can expect two, even three, back-ups of systems. These already exist, he points out, in systems that cannot fail, like aircraft.

Whether they’ll be a priority for the in-fridge camera is unclear.

I should add that as a result of being grounded at LAX, I wound up driving to CES with two strangers I met at the airport — a tech industry DC lobbyist and a Korean distributor of portable TVs. I met them the old-fashioned way — by talking — and we had a very entertaining ride to Vegas, full of interesting conversation, offering a keen reminder of the value of face-to-face communication.

tomtom CES
Gismos relating to “smart” cars were everywhere. Photo by Frances Anderton.

The other big story it seems was automated cars. I met Alex Davies, transportation editor at Wired magazine on the floor of the North Hall at the Convention Center, where all the hot new smart cars are shown.

He says that increasingly CES is the car show, and even though the Detroit Auto Show takes place this week, he is “not entirely clear what automakers have left to show there because this (CES) is really the show where the interesting, most fun consumer oriented stuff will come out.”

Alex Davies
Alex Davies of Wired magazine stands in the Audi space at CES.

And why is this?

Alex says it’s “because cars aren’t really so much about engines anymore. They’re not about performance because that doesn’t work anymore. Cities are too big, our planet’s getting too polluted,” and so the most exciting things happening in cars are in the realm of IOT and autonomous driving technology.

We met in the Audi booth; he says that company is leading the way. But he adds that the Chevy Bolt is very important too, having beaten Tesla to the goal of making an affordable, all-electric car. We are talking Chevy Bolt, by the way, not Volt (odd branding because the two are so easily confused.) Read his analysis here.

Of course, even if self-driving cars have arrived, the big issue now is legal and policy; will states permit them?

Girl Scouts meet Adrian Grenier
Adrian Grenier, right of picture, poses with Girl Scouts in the Dell space, after giving them an inspiring pep talk. Photo by Frances Anderton.

One of the things that you couldn’t help noticing at CES was, yes, the huge gender disparity. It really is a massive invasion of guys and their gadgets.

But among the small percentage of females present were some Girl Scouts. They had a booth where they were talking about Girl Scouts involvement in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and learning coding through Made With Code.

Frances with girl scouts
Mallika, left of picture, and Lila, right, with Frances Anderton in the Dell space at CES.

They came to the Dell space to hear from Erin Walline, female Executive Director of Engineering – Experience Design for Dell (read all about Erin, and how she’s doing her bit to change stereotypes in the tech industry, here), and from Adrian Grenier, actor, activist and, since last March, Dell’s Advocate for Social Good.

The Girl Scouts were highly excited by CES and are thinking ahead to their own projects for the Internet of Things. Lila outlined one of them: “I’ve seen a water bottle that is flat and fits in your backpack; I would like a version of that is also a touchscreen so I can do my work on my touchscreen and also drink water out of it.”

Adrian, Erin and Frances at CES
Adrian Grenier, left of picture, and Erin Walline, talk about sustainability in Dell’s technology with Frances at CES.

As mentioned, Adrian Grenier, who co-founded SHFT, is now the public face of Dell’s sustainability efforts.

It is interesting to consider how an industry that is predicated on constant upgrades can maintain its growth while limiting its emissions. That was the topic of a conversation I moderated a panel with Adrian and Erin Walline.

We learned about the company’s 2020 Legacy of Good 10×20 Plan; about its packaging made from compostable materials, closed loop manufacturing and how Dell recycles its old computers.

CES 2016
Calligraphic work by Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic was custom-made for the Dell space at CES 2016.

Adrian has also developed, with Dell, a VR underwater ride called “Cry Out: The Lonely Whale Experience.” This was one manifestation of the convergence of art and technology that I discussed with him and two artists who are ambassadors for Dell technology, Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic, who is and a sneaker designer, Kariem Younes.

Lex (for short) is a New York and Tokyo based multi-media artist who has taken one of the oldest art forms — calligraphy — and given it his own twist. He has shown at MoMA, Miami Art Basel, SCOPE New York — and worked on large-scale projects with Jeff Koons, Kanye West, Nike and even the White House.

For him the computer offers a way to display his work in vivid color and brightness — as well as to distribute it in ways outside of the conventional art industrial complex.

Kariem Younes sneakers
Kariem Younes sneakers are digitally designed and 3D-printed. Photo by Frances Anderton.

Kariem, also based in New York, started out in pre-med, segued to the Fashion Institute of Technology and went to become a designer of luxury jewelry. But he is most inspired by the application of 3D — or parametric — design software, and at the Dell space at CES he showcased digitally designed, and 3D-printed, sneakers. He extolled the extraordinary level of accuracy in design and manufacture, as well as the freedom to develop new visual forms, offered by digital softwares.

It was a lively and thoughtful discussion that ranged from how tech can support, not overwhelm, art through to the risks of piracy and what all this means for the display and distribution of fine art and fashion. We even touched on an ancient question that technology and all the bling at CES may not be able to answer: what is the meaning of life.

All in all, it was a fascinating event.

Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic, left of picture, and Kariem Younes in the Dell space at CES 2016.
Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic, left of picture, and Kariem Younes in the Dell space at CES 2016.

For more an in-depth discussion of CES, Girl Guides and the Internet of Things, check out this DnA broadcast.