CES always brings in the New Year, and always seems to be full of enthusiasm and hype. Judging from the reports from CES2017 this year, it’s clear the enthusiasm and hype are definitely still there.
We have the now usual range of AI devices, which are meant to make your life better. There is the intelligent hairbrush that tells you whether you are, um, brushing your hair right. There is the intelligent toothbrush that, yup, tells you whether you are brushing your teeth right. There is Hub Robot, that can warm the oven while you prep your food, and start the vacuum when you leave the house. There is the speaker that levitates, because, well, it can.
Depending on your point of view, all of these are either very cool or very irritating.
Clever as all of this is – and horrifyingly insecure – it seems that most of it is being invented ‘because it can be’. Surely by now we know how to brush our hair, and teeth and turn on the oven?
The enthusiasm is not limited to hairbrushes. CES2017 was also alive with the coolest gadgets for cars. Ford is deploying Alexa (originally designed as a ‘home intelligence’ product) to make our cars know us better. Now you can order a nearby cheeseburger, or request a weather forecast. According to Don Butler, the man in charge of these things at Ford, this is the “deepest integration of any OEM [carmaker] inside a vehicle with Alexa.”
Wait. In the old days, you could drive into the local purveyor of cheeseburgers, order a cheeseburger and drive out again a minute or so later. And generally speaking, the … what is it called, oh yes, radio will give you a weather forecast pretty much every thirty minutes. Or – surely – your passenger can look it up on an app. So it’s fair to ask how intelligent actually are all these things that allow us to do things that we can already do?
Of course, a lot of these developments are about testing whether this will really be the year of the digital assistant, and another big year in the development of AI based products.
But the hype is likely to test the patience of investors, if not cynical consumers. Which brings us to 5G.
At CES2017, Intel is announcing a global 5G modem, and will begin showing it to customers later this year. Yet 5G for most of us is still years away.
There is now a real, definite and increasingly visible gap between the hype and the reality of many things that are in the press. From 5G to autonomous vehicles, the timescales by which they become mainstream are very long, yet the hype seems to suggest that they are just around the corner.
Let us hope that when the hype fades and the slide begins, investors do not desert. It is a tall order to raise money on the basis that the products are too far ahead of the environment in which they will eventually become mainstream.
We have said this before, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that funding a period where you are simply sitting and waiting might be an ask too far.