Chris Celletti
Tech / Innovation
CES 2018 Recap: Boundless Technology

An event like the Consumer Electronics Show is simultaneously both a respite from the real world and the the strongest distillation of that world’s technology and its societal impacts. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, and CES 2018 came at a time when there seems to be globally-relevant, hourly breaking news that doesn’t exactly inspire. Don’t get us wrong—CES is a fun celebration of innovation and gadgetry, and this year was no different. While this year may have lacked the big, paradigm-shifting, capital-A announcement of years’ past, there were some exceptionally exciting new products on display. Whether those products hit stores later this year or never at all, the potential of our technology is vast and boundless.

When we think of CES, we think of Google, Samsung, Amazon, the tech giants who are present and dominant throughout the week. We also think of Apple, who despite sitting out the conference is always lurking. We don’t usually think of cosmetics brands. This year, L’Oreal debuted UV Sense—it’s a battery free device, less than two millimeters thick, that fits on a fingernail and monitors sun exposure, alerting users as to when they might be getting too much sun. While fitness trackers have long told users valuable information, the type of truly autonomous technology seen here points to a more seamless technological future, where the objects that monitor us and relay information don’t have to be consistently monitored by us.

While robots have shown utility, there’s no doubt that their appeal is also in their playfulness. Perhaps then there’s no better, more meaningful use of a robot than the My Special Aflac Duck, which made waves on the CES floor. The toy is meant to comfort children ill with cancer, and the company ambitiously hopes to donate one to all of the near 16,000 children diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. In addition to helping children familiarize themselves with chemotherapy treatment, the duck also reacts to how and where the children pet it and comes with emoji cards that allow the duck to mimic emotions. It’s by no means a massive technological breakthrough, but there’s no doubt that CES staples like artificial intelligence, robotics, and virtual reality all have a future in mental and physical treatment.

But CES is CES, which means that eyes were also fixated on the latest products from the big boys. Smart home devices were probably the most popular highlights this year, with items from televisions to refrigerators to displays (RIP the term “tablet”, apparently) all boasting not just their individual features but their ability to be your smart home hub. Lenovo’s Smart Display is a head-on competitor of the Echo Show, and being able to play videos from YouTube will no doubt be a big differentiator, aside from its sleek design. LG made a few big statements, one being with their TVs; particularly, the C-Series OLED. Aside from its picture quality upgrades, it also comes with Google Assistant. Soon enough, you may not have to worry about looking for the remote in between the couch cushions.

Interoperability seems to be lacking still, which is something that will likely be addressed at some point. While companies will want consumers to choose their brand for all of their home appliances and gadgets, it’s difficult to imagine that consumers will fall into line. That’s not to mention Apple, the choice of so many consumers, who will surely find their way deeper into the smart home game eventually. Whether or not our products come from the same brand or not, it’s clear that nearly every physical object we interact with is eventually going to be connected—Samsung revealed their plan to have all of their products connected by 2020. Most manufacturers will likely follow suit in the coming years.

What will help all the incredible technology on display at CES come together is even bigger and better computing power than we currently have, which will bring about smarter AI and computer learning. It may not have been the talk of the week, but IBM had on display a prototype of the first ever 50-qubit quantum computer. The company says its the future of computing, and is already working with commercial partners in automotive, finance and other major industries to get a sense of its power.

Perhaps you can think of an item in your home or office that need not receive or feed data within a digital ecosystem. Chances are, a connected version of that thing will one day be featured on the CES floor. CES can sometimes seem superfluous, a convention of gizmos that are more about making a show than solving a problem. But this year’s edition showed that technology and innovation can be flashy and also inspire us to do good.

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