Technology

Negotiating Technological Creep

Paul Arras
Photo courtesy of Consumer Electronic Show.tech

Mind-blowing TVs, dog poop dropping drones, and other thoughts from the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show.


Consumer Electronics Show

City: Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: Tech East, Tech West, Tech South
Date: 2017-01-05-08

A couple nights before heading to Las Vegas for the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) my buddy, Maarten, and I were monkeying around with his brand new Amazon Echo. Namely, we were testing its ability to play big band jazz music.

“Alexa… play ‘BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA’ by Bob Crosby,” I shouted.

“Geez, you don’t have to scream it,” said Maarten.

“I’m sorry… I can’t find any music by the artist, Electric Iron Battleship,” said Alexa, without much sympathy.

We laughed and I tried again. “Alexa… play ‘Big Noise from Winnetka’ from Manhattan Murder Mystery soundtrack.”

“I’m sorry… I can’t find any music by the artist, Electric Iron Battleship,” said Alexa.

I rolled my eyes.

“Let me try,” said Maarten. “Alexa… play… what was it you wanted?”

“Big Noise from Winnetka, by Bob Crosby and his Orchestra. It’s from Manhattan Murder Mystery, a Woody Allen movie.”

Alexa interrupted me. “Playing ‘What Was It You Wanted’ by Bob Dylan.” From somewhere in the Cloud, the Nobel Laureate began to strum his guitar.

“ALEXA,” said Maarten, shouting over the sound of Dylan. “PLAY BOB CROSBY ORCHESTRA’S ‘BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA!’”

“I’m sorry… I can’t find any music by Electric Iron Battleship,” said Alexa.

I grabbed Maarten’s phone and pulled up Big Noise from Winnetka on YouTube. Problem solved.

Amazon Echo’s voice recognition is not yet perfect. Similarly, while some of my fellow iPhone users have embraced the feature, I still haven't integrated Siri into my life. I just don’t feel like it works well enough. Nevertheless, voice recognition technology is undoubtedly improving, and I'm certain that very soon, probably in a few years, I will be persuaded adopt it.

I feel the same way about voice recognition technology in 2017 as I did about touch screen technology a decade ago, when the world first glimpsed the iPhone. At that point, my touch screen experience had been limited to public kiosks with dicey touch screen responsiveness that made me feel like I had to press on the glass with all my strength. Even then, I remember those screens regularly failing to register my intentions.

Ten years later the responsivity of touch screens on our phones and all around us is virtually flawless. I suspect voice recognition will quickly follow the same path. Alexa’s difficulty with our big band jazz challenge aside, the gadget is pretty amazing already.

It's also a little creepy. Consider that Alexa must be listening to everything said in earshot. Constant audio monitoring is inherent and necessary for voice recognition to work.

Still, the many potential uses of these technologies are just so appealing.

“Yesterday Andrea spent an hour figuring out how to integrate our calendars through Alexa,” Maarten explained to me. “So now we can just tell her ("her" being Alexa) to add an appointment and it immediately updates on our calendars in the Cloud!”

* * *

A few days later, wandering the miles of booths at CES, I saw plenty of other pretty amazing things. The Amazon Echo was a big hit in 2016, so of course many companies at the convention were showing off how their products integrated with Alexa.

This was my fifth trip to CES in the last six years. As always, I was tagging along with my dad, a retired veteran of the consumer electronics business who first attended the show in the early '80s. He could tell you stories…

Back then, working first for GE and later for Thomson, the French company that bought the once-mighty RCA brand, Dad and his team set up shop in Mandalay Bay on the opposite end of the strip from the Las Vegas Convention Center. Buyers from various retailers would come to their display in the morning for a big breakfast buffet or in the evening for a boozy cocktail hour. There they would negotiate the number of units their stores would purchase for the coming year.

Eventually, the Consumer Technology Association corralled these rogue displays and forced all the big companies to display at CES proper. Meanwhile, even though cutting-edge tech companies like Apple and Microsoft no longer attend, media and public curiosity for the show is as high as ever. Nowadays, unless you are a tiny startup company hoping to attract the attention of a buyer passing near your little booth, CES is not so much about making your sales numbers for the year ahead as it is about showing off what your company is going to offer consumers in the near future.

In my own experiences at CES, the show’s visions of the future can be hit (3D printing is here!) or miss (3D TV is here!). As the 2017 CES reminded me, the show is also very reactive to the present. Hence, lots of Alexa integration, virtual reality, augmented reality, smart everything, and increasingly specialized drones.

* * *

Per our typical strategy, we spent Thursday walking the small and medium-sized booths at the Venetian and the Convention Center’s South Hall, saving Friday for the big electronics companies in the Central Hall. As expected, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, and others dazzled us with their big, bright displays. Those major players pour big bucks -- as much as $30 million, a friend in the industry told me -- to stand out at the show.

All of the newest televisions looked amazing. They always do. Only the Chinese company Changhong dared to put its newest 8K television side-by-side with its older 4K model. When I walked over to the display, a company representative was pointing out the deeper colors and crisper picture on the 8K to a few passersby who were nodding appreciatively. I stopped, registered the slight improvements, and joined in with their nodding. I snapped a photo and sent a sarcastic text to Maarten, who had just bought a new 4K set. “8K! Twice as many K as your 4K!”

We made our way to Sony’s booth, which featured its own incredible television display amongst its typical wide variety of technological steps forward in cameras, video games, and more. But it was just beyond the Sony booth where we found one of the quirkiest displays at CES. It belonged to Denso, an intriguing Japanese company that we had never heard of. They are trying a few curious things…

There was a barista robot, for example. Glistening steel, it looked like a liquid metal Terminator 2 arm. It was executing a nice and steady pour-over for the small line of already over-caffeinated show attendees.

There was also a pair of what Denso called “ecology shoes”. The accompanying sign explained, “This product is a vacuum cleaning shoe that never needs to be plugged in or charged. As the user’s foot hits the ground, a lever is activated, turning the gear and generating electricity. Electricity then powers the motor, creating suction to collect debris.” Ridiculous, but unlike just about everyone else at CES, it seems like the folks in Denso’s R&D lab have a pretty good sense of humor about our automatizing world.

The featured item in the booth was a funky white three-wheeler, a “Persuasive Electric Vehicle” or “

'http://www.autoblog.com/2016/01/08/mit-persuasive-electric-vehicle/

'>PEV

.” It took me a while to figure out what exactly the point of the thing was. Partnering with some creative minds at M.I.T., Denso is trying to stretch current conceptions of self-driving vehicles.

Have you ever seen the conceptual art projects of Christo and Jean-Claude where they wrapped white fabric around major urban landmarks like the Reichstag and the Pont-Neuf? The PEV looks like its designers did the same thing to a big baby carriage. It looks like a Wright Brothers plane without the wings. It looks like it could blow away in a gust of wind.

The PEV is a little one-person vehicle, designed to drive around a city, either on a street or a bike path. This brings me to the most interesting aspect of the PEV. Primarily an electric, self-driving vehicle, it also has a set of bicycle pedals. If the PEV’s battery runs down, or if you just feel like getting a little exercise, you can propel it yourself.

* * *

A couple years ago at CES, when the first drones started to appear, Dad fretted over their potential use as weapons for terrorists or crazy people. This year the Federal Aviation Administration had a booth set up to alleviate such concerns. Spotting their booth, Dad went right over to chat with the FAA reps. But instead of recounting his serious drone fears, Dad asked if it he could get arrested for using a drone to scoop up his dog’s poop and drop it on a neighbor’s lawn. The rep laughed and said, because putting dog poop on a lawn was not directly harmful, the FAA would not step in to punish him.

How interesting that the FAA had a booth at CES! Setting aside concerns over the American military’s use of drones, civilian and commercial drones are a creepy new gadget. The FAA’s little booth at CES is there to reassure us that humans can manage and control these proliferating machines. Drones don’t drop dog poop on neighbors’ yards; people drop dog poop on neighbors’ yards.

* * *

I worry about creepy new technology. I lived through the recent 2016 US Presidential election. I have seen several Black Mirror episodes. I must admit, those worries rarely came to mind as I wandered among the CES spectacle and its glittery technological promises.

I don’t worry that Denso’s barista robot is going to come to life on Judgement Day. I think I would like to live in a world where Denso’s little PEV’s flourished in cities, even if it meant some of them were tooling around town without a human inside. We would eventually get used to seeing these little white vehicles rolling around the corner and down the street, on their way to pick up a remotely-ordered coffee, as Denso’s promotional video suggested the PEV might do. Perhaps a robot will pour that coffee and place it into the PEV’s compartment.

I’d be sad if Denso scrapped the pedals, though. Today, the PEV’s owner might not feel like leaving the house, but tomorrow he might want to stretch his legs and actually interact with another human, if he can find one. Most of all, it's nice to feel like you can take control when you want to.

Paul Arras is a Lecturer in the Communication Studies department at SUNY Cortland. He recently completed his Ph.D. in history at Syracuse University, specializing in television history. His thoughts on every episode of Seinfeld can be found here: http://watchingthe90s.blogspot.com/.

The 2017 CES: Negotiating Technological Creep

By Paul Arras

A couple nights before heading to Las Vegas for the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) my buddy, Maarten, and I were monkeying around with his brand new Amazon Echo. Namely, we were testing its ability to play big band jazz music.

“Alexa… play ‘BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA’ by Bob Crosby,” I shouted.

“Geez, you don’t have to scream it,” said Maarten.

“I’m sorry… I can’t find any music by the artist, Electric Iron Battleship,” said Alexa, without much sympathy.

We laughed and I tried again. “Alexa… play ‘Big Noise from Winnetka’ from Manhattan Murder Mystery soundtrack.”

“I’m sorry… I can’t find any music by the artist, Electric Iron Battleship,” said Alexa.

I rolled my eyes.

“Let me try,” said Maarten. “Alexa… play… what was it you wanted?”

“Big Noise from Winnetka, by Bob Crosby and his Orchestra. It’s from Manhattan Murder Mystery, a Woody Allen movie.”

Alexa interrupted me. “Playing ‘What Was It You Wanted’ by Bob Dylan.” From somewhere in the Cloud, the Nobel Laureate began to strum his guitar.

“ALEXA,” said Maarten, shouting over the sound of Dylan. “PLAY BOB CROSBY ORCHESTRA’S ‘BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA!’”

“I’m sorry… I can’t find any music by Electric Iron Battleship,” said Alexa.

I grabbed Maarten’s phone and pulled up Big Noise from Winnetka on YouTube. Problem solved.

Amazon Echo’s voice recognition is not yet perfect. Similarly, while some of my fellow iPhone users have embraced the feature, I still haven't integrated Siri into my life. I just don’t feel like it works well enough. Nevertheless, voice recognition technology is undoubtedly improving, and I'm certain that very soon, probably in a few years, I will be persuaded adopt it.

I feel the same way about voice recognition technology in 2017 as I did about touch screen technology a decade ago, when the world first glimpsed the iPhone. At that point, my touch screen experience had been limited to public kiosks with dicey touch screen responsiveness that made me feel like I had to press on the glass with all my strength. Even then, I remember those screens regularly failing to register my intentions.

Ten years later the responsivity of touch screens on our phones and all around us is virtually flawless. I suspect voice recognition will quickly follow the same path. Alexa’s difficulty with our big band jazz challenge aside, the gadget is pretty amazing already.

It's also a little creepy. Consider that Alexa must be listening to everything said in earshot. Constant audio monitoring is inherent and necessary for voice recognition to work.

Still, the many potential uses of these technologies are just so appealing.

“Yesterday Andrea spent an hour figuring out how to integrate our calendars through Alexa,” Maarten explained to me. “So now we can just tell her ("her" being Alexa) to add an appointment and it immediately updates on our calendars in the Cloud!”

* * *

A few days later, wandering the miles of booths at CES, I saw plenty of other pretty amazing things. The Amazon Echo was a big hit in 2016, so of course many companies at the convention were showing off how their products integrated with Alexa.

This was my fifth trip to CES in the last six years. As always, I was tagging along with my dad, a retired veteran of the consumer electronics business who first attended the show in the early '80s. He could tell you stories…

Back then, working first for GE and later for Thomson, the French company that bought the once-mighty RCA brand, Dad and his team set up shop in Mandalay Bay on the opposite end of the strip from the Las Vegas Convention Center. Buyers from various retailers would come to their display in the morning for a big breakfast buffet or in the evening for a boozy cocktail hour. There they would negotiate the number of units their stores would purchase for the coming year.

Eventually, the Consumer Technology Association corralled these rogue displays and forced all the big companies to display at CES proper. Meanwhile, even though cutting-edge tech companies like Apple and Microsoft no longer attend, media and public curiosity for the show is as high as ever. Nowadays, unless you are a tiny startup company hoping to attract the attention of a buyer passing near your little booth, CES is not so much about making your sales numbers for the year ahead as it is about showing off what your company is going to offer consumers in the near future.

In my own experiences at CES, the show’s visions of the future can be hit (3D printing is here!) or miss (3D TV is here!). As the 2017 CES reminded me, the show is also very reactive to the present. Hence, lots of Alexa integration, virtual reality, augmented reality, smart everything, and increasingly specialized drones.

* * *

Per our typical strategy, we spent Thursday walking the small and medium-sized booths at the Venetian and the Convention Center’s South Hall, saving Friday for the big electronics companies in the Central Hall. As expected, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, and others dazzled us with their big, bright displays. Those major players pour big bucks -- as much as $30 million, a friend in the industry told me -- to stand out at the show.

All of the newest televisions looked amazing. They always do. Only the Chinese company Changhong dared to put its newest 8K television side-by-side with its older 4K model. When I walked over to the display, a company representative was pointing out the deeper colors and crisper picture on the 8K to a few passersby who were nodding appreciatively. I stopped, registered the slight improvements, and joined in with their nodding. I snapped a photo and sent a sarcastic text to Maarten, who had just bought a new 4K set. “8K! Twice as many K as your 4K!”

We made our way to Sony’s booth, which featured its own incredible television display amongst its typical wide variety of technological steps forward in cameras, video games, and more. But it was just beyond the Sony booth where we found one of the quirkiest displays at CES. It belonged to Denso, an intriguing Japanese company that we had never heard of. They are trying a few curious things…

There was a barista robot, for example. Glistening steel, it looked like a liquid metal Terminator 2 arm. It was executing a nice and steady pour-over for the small line of already over-caffeinated show attendees.

There was also a pair of what Denso called “ecology shoes”. The accompanying sign explained, “This product is a vacuum cleaning shoe that never needs to be plugged in or charged. As the user’s foot hits the ground, a lever is activated, turning the gear and generating electricity. Electricity then powers the motor, creating suction to collect debris.” Ridiculous, but unlike just about everyone else at CES, it seems like the folks in Denso’s R&D lab have a pretty good sense of humor about our automatizing world.

The featured item in the booth was a funky white three-wheeler, a “Persuasive Electric Vehicle” or “

'http://www.autoblog.com/2016/01/08/mit-persuasive-electric-vehicle/

'>PEV

.” It took me a while to figure out what exactly the point of the thing was. Partnering with some creative minds at M.I.T., Denso is trying to stretch current conceptions of self-driving vehicles.

Have you ever seen the conceptual art projects of Christo and Jean-Claude where they wrapped white fabric around major urban landmarks like the Reichstag and the Pont-Neuf? The PEV looks like its designers did the same thing to a big baby carriage. It looks like a Wright Brothers plane without the wings. It looks like it could blow away in a gust of wind.

The PEV is a little one-person vehicle, designed to drive around a city, either on a street or a bike path. This brings me to the most interesting aspect of the PEV. Primarily an electric, self-driving vehicle, it also has a set of bicycle pedals. If the PEV’s battery runs down, or if you just feel like getting a little exercise, you can propel it yourself.

* * *

A couple years ago at CES, when the first drones started to appear, Dad fretted over their potential use as weapons for terrorists or crazy people. This year the Federal Aviation Administration had a booth set up to alleviate such concerns. Spotting their booth, Dad went right over to chat with the FAA reps. But instead of recounting his serious drone fears, Dad asked if it he could get arrested for using a drone to scoop up his dog’s poop and drop it on a neighbor’s lawn. The rep laughed and said, because putting dog poop on a lawn was not directly harmful, the FAA would not step in to punish him.

How interesting that the FAA had a booth at CES! Setting aside concerns over the American military’s use of drones, civilian and commercial drones are a creepy new gadget. The FAA’s little booth at CES is there to reassure us that humans can manage and control these proliferating machines. Drones don’t drop poop on neighbors’ yards; people drop poop on neighbors’ yards.

* * *

I worry about creepy new technology. I lived through the recent 2016 US Presidential election. I have seen several Black Mirror episodes. I must admit, those worries rarely came to mind as I wandered among the CES spectacle and its glittery technological promises.

I don’t worry that Denso’s barista robot is going to come to life on Judgement Day. I think I would like to live in a world where Denso’s little PEV’s flourished in cities, even if it meant some of them were tooling around town without a human inside. We would eventually get used to seeing these little white vehicles rolling around the corner and down the street, on their way to pick up a remotely-ordered coffee, as Denso’s promotional video suggested the PEV might do. Perhaps a robot will pour that coffee and place it into the PEV’s compartment.

I’d be sad if Denso scrapped the pedals, though. Today, the PEV’s owner might not feel like leaving the house, but tomorrow he might want to stretch his legs and actually interact with another human, if he can find one. Most of all, it's nice to feel like you can take control when you want to.

Paul Arras is a Lecturer in the Communication Studies department at SUNY Cortland. He recently completed his Ph.D. in history at Syracuse University, specializing in television history. His thoughts on every episode of Seinfeld can be found here.

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