Issue #32: Inside the AI-Powered Future: CES 2024 — Thoughts on Tech & Things

Howdy 👋🏾, as always, CES was a great event and an amazing place to see all the new consumer products and tech embryos starting to hatch. If you didn’t make it, I walked nearly 20,000 steps a day with 130,000 other attendees to give you the low down on the best of CES and the things I found interesting:

Let’s start with AI. It was everywhere and nowhere at CES all at once—living in its own “Robotics/AI” pavilion, many of the exhibits leaned more toward robotics than AI, but everywhere, companies showcased new products with AI as the top new feature. If a product could fit AI, it had AI inside. The big AI hit was Rabbit: a charming AI companion that sold 10,000 units overnight, triggering round two.

Knock-off Boston Dynamics dog bots have evolved from novelty to household staple—affordable enough at under $2.5k to become an impulse splurge for many. This year’s menagerie of leaping and jumping models was a reminder that robotics have hit the mainstream. The question now is not if you can buy a bot but what to do with the darn thing. Many prototypes still felt gimmicky, more concept than a practical solution.

Samsung and LG revealed wandering smart speaker bots like Ballie that follow you around…as long as there are no stairs. We also saw the usual fleet of worker bots: self-driving delivery kiosks, hotel concierges, and even waiters/waitresses (do we need a non-binary bot term here?). The next-gen home helpers—mopping, vacuuming, lawn mowing bots—are improving at indoor mapping but still can’t handle stairs.

What did intrigue me? The bigger bot concepts and increased offerings of self-driving industrial equipment that can mine, farm, and weed without a human. Hyundai called this automated construction where autonomous vehicles that looked similar to Robocop’s ED-209 can handle these tasks in space, underwater, or other extreme terrain unsuitable for us.

The TV trend across big brands centered on ever-larger, thinner displays (no shocker), now infused with AI to enhance video quality and pacing.

But the genuinely jaw-dropping innovation this year? Fully wireless, transparent TV screens. We’re talking see-through panels indistinguishable from slightly tinted glass…until activated to fill with crisp imagery or video instantly. The transparency remains impressive even when opaque content like soccer or football plays. However, the glare and reflection make this iteration underwhelming compared to new OLED displays.

LG wireless transparent TV

As I was ready to dismiss transparent TVs as gimmicks, LG revealed some killer commercial applications that stunned me. Imagine mass transit windows seamlessly transformed into info displays with approaching stops and location-based ads. A bakery could encase its pastries in transparent screens alternating between mouthwatering close-ups and pricing. Hotels could implant invisible, custom-sized touch panels in tables as interactive menus.

I glimpsed an imaginary bakery where names sat above products and pictured a screen where emoji dance across what looks like glass. It struck me as a slice of anime sci-fi magic manifests in real life. The TV might not be there yet for home use, but transparent touch displays are poised to dissolve boundaries between screens and reality across industries, and they will only get better and better.

Apple skipped CES, but their impending AR glasses still cast a shadow. With a months-long head start, rivals like Samsung, Google, and Sony are racing to stake claims, but their rumored products were absent from show floors, but the floor was still filled with mixed reality concepts.

Sadly, most remained gimmicky works in progress. Buggy interfaces and clumsy tap/swipe controls reinforced that they’re not yet ready. Do I want to poke at my glasses arm to navigate a tiny interface? Let’s hope Apple’s purported eye tracking and finger taps pioneer a more intuitive UI.

My favorite vision-centric innovation skipped AR and VR entirely, focusing on audio. These hearing aid-style glasses called Nuance Audio use beamforming speakers to boost conversations you visually focus on—like spy glasses from Mission Impossible! In noisy environments, I could look at someone and catch their words, increasing the volume of their voice with the attached speakers.

Complementing the mixed reality space was increasingly advanced haptics that blurred virtual/physical barriers through touch. From impact-simulating vests and bodysuits to VR gloves that convince your hands you’re grasping real objects…these tangibility bridges inched closer to mainstream viability.

Digital health again took center stage at CES, with relentless innovation minimizing clinical devices into accessible at-home solutions. Standouts included urinalysis gauging health factors and wearables such as rings easing menopause. Even memory foam pillows are getting smarter—one model detects snores via built-in mics and then uses air adjustments to gently reposition sleepers’ heads to reduce noise.

CES has become one of the world’s premier auto shows, and 2024’s concepts didn’t disappoint. While many flashy vehicles may never reach roadways, it’s fascinating to glimpse automakers’ imaginative possibilities for the open road.

XPeng AeroHT Flying Car

The showstopper for me? An electric flying car that transforms into a quadcopter for quick intra-city personal flights. The concept is scheduled to launch in China by 2025 and offers an SUV with a detachable two-person quad stored in the back for aerial sightseeing.

My next favorite was Kia’s modular EV, which transformed into a family van, work vehicle, and truck for hauling based on daily needs. Kia also modeled purpose-built EVs catering to rideshare drivers, featuring rear cabin layouts tailored for Uber and Lyft. And no shortage of concepts attempting to rival Tesla, like a vintage-styled EV with old-school wood/gauge aesthetics yet blistering acceleration.

Kia electric vans with modular swappable bodies

Many vehicles and concepts touted interiors with stunning panoramic dashboard screens, unifying instruments, media, and rear views into a single sleek interface. As cars evolve into rolling autonomous software platforms, we can expect infotainment displays in the cabin to become more pervasive.

Mercedes Concept CLA Class

What’s crazy is that it only scratches the surface of the sites at CES’ from speed-boosting shoes to outdoor electric grills to a drone soccer league. But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered – I’ll keep spotting the most promising developments to share. Now, on to my thoughts on tech & things:

⚡️OpenAI says it needs copyrighted material to train because our copyright laws are so broad that nearly everything falls under some form of protection. I’m no lawyer, but I’ve long wondered where fair use begins and ends. After all, Mario has protected IP. Yet, while AI image tools actively block requests for the character, asking for an Italian plumber in red overalls and a hat renders similar results. It skirts the legal lines without uttering the magic words

⚡️Anthropic, makers of Claude, have found that AI can be trained to deceive or be tricked into giving false information. In my experience, models can fall prey to techniques like “poisoning the well” – feeding them incorrect data that they present as fact. Developers defining instruction sets can also intentionally add triggers leading models to redact or avoid important facts. It’s a reminder to audit systems for potential manipulation regarding truthfulness.

⚡️Speaking of AI being used unexpectedly, companies use OpenAI to generate copycat products on Amazon with OpenAI – generated titles, descriptions, and details. I went looking soon after the Verge published the article, and most of the products that reference an OpenAI policy have since been deleted, but it is a reminder of the shadowy fake product market that lives and thrives on Amazon.

⚡️Internet can be a hard to find luxury in rural areas of the US, something our shift from radio and cable TV reminds us constantly. This got me thinking about the impact of IoT farming, which makes the unexpected John Deere and SpaceX partnership so interesting. John Deere hopes 10% of revenue will come from services by 2030 – likely relying on autonomous, connected equipment capable of precision weeding without humans.

As wonderful as CES is, it also comes with the fantastic backdrop of Las Vegas. Unlike last year, the craps tables didn’t win me a few thousand, but I did hoof it to the Sphere for Postcard from Earth, a 4D experience with wraparound visuals combining aerial footage, wind, and haptic seats to transport you into the show.

I also took the team for my second visit to Area15, an immersive entertainment district and home of the mind-bending Omega Mart. Omega Mart is best described as an experimental art exhibit that allows you to warp from what appears at the surface to be a standard grocery store into trippy new worlds. One moment, you’re looking at a can of “Nut-free salted peanuts,” the next, you’re transported into hidden mazes of different worlds.

image credit

This image doesn’t do it justice, and on your next trip to Vegas, I highly recommend you check both out. As always, I hope you enjoyed my insights, and if you liked them, please be sure to forward them and share them with anyone else who might benefit. See you next week!

-jason

P.S. It’s easy to remember the winners in tech, but the technology graveyard is filled with ideas – sometimes superior – from runner-ups that didn’t make the cut. Think iPod beating out Microsoft’s Zune in portable media or DVDs prevailing over LaserDiscs for home video. I often wonder what if the losing format had succeeded instead – how different might our lives be? Perhaps AOL still dominates Internet access? If things had gone in another direction, maybe EVs could have become the default vehicle decades earlier. History hangs on tiny fulcrum points directing wildly divergent results over time… it’s crazy to ponder the alternative timelines that could have unfolded.

(This is not an AI-generated photo)