Amid trade wars, geopolitical tensions and a decline in public trust, the technology sector is seeking to put its problems aside with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the annual extravaganza showcasing futuristic innovations.
The January 8-11 Las Vegas trade event offers a glimpse into new products and services designed to make people’s lives easier, fun and more productive, reaching across diverse sectors such as entertainment, health, transportation, agriculture and sports.
“Smart” devices using various forms of artificial intelligence will again be a major focus at the CES.
Visitors are likely to see more dazzling TV screens, intuitive robots, a range of voice-activated devices, and folding or roll-up smartphone displays. Also on display will be refinements to autonomous transportation and gadgets taking advantage of 5G, or fifth-generation wireless networks.
But the celebration of innovation will be mixed with concerns about public trust in new technology and other factors that could cool the growth of a sizzling economic sector.
“I think 2019 will be a year of trust-related challenges for the tech industry,” said Technalysis Research’s Bob O’Donnell.
The CES features 4,500 exhibitors across 250,000sqm of exhibit space showcasing artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, smart homes, smart cities, sports gadgets and other cutting-edge devices. Some 182,000 trade professionals are expected.
Much ado about data
There will be a focus on artificial intelligence that can “personalise” a user’s experience with a device or a car, or even predict what someone is seeking – whether it’s music or medical care.
But because this ecosystem is built around data, public confidence has been eroded by scandals involving Facebook, Google and other guardians of people’s private information.
“The public is wary because of recent events,” said Endpoint Technologies Associates analyst and consultant Roger Kay. “I think the industry will be slowed by this scepticism.”
Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi at the CES said: “You’ll definitely hear people talk about security more and really looking at how you secure the data.”
The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which operates the show, acknowledges that the sector is being hurt by tariffs and trade frictions between the two largest economic players, the US and China.
Tariffs on tech products jumped to $1.3 billion in October, according to the CTA, raising fears about growth.
“It’s almost inevitable that an economic slowdown will occur if these tariffs continue,” said CTA vice president for international trade Sage Chandler.
The US-China trade issues and the arrest of a top executive of Chinese giant Huawei in Canada have thrown into question the “supply chain”, the system in which US designs are manufactured in China for the global market.
“This does cast a shadow over CES,” O’Donnell said.