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Talk about bad omens.
The lights went out briefly Wednesday at CES, the giant consumer-electronics trade show in Las Vegas. Electricity is rather key to CES, of course. The booming, thumping, pulsing, flashing stalls of techdom went dark and quiet for a spell, prompting amusing accounts of jugglers entertaining, battery-powered boom boxes bleating, and mere mortals illuminating their way from their rapidly depleting smartphones.
Could the benighted tech industry have hit on a better metaphor than a power outage? While waiting for Ford CEO Jim Hackett’s enlightening keynote Tuesday morning I listened to CES poo-bah Gary Shapiro mouth words about diversity. This from the head of an organization that didn’t see fit to program one woman as a keynote speaker at its annual event.
Elsewhere talk of a tech “backlash” dominated private conversations at CES, as this New York Times article nicely summarizes. Having observed a few of these cycles I’d offer a different interpretation of the current environment. It’s more the inevitable pendulum swinging. Tech is revered; tech is reviled. It’ll be revered again. It’s only a matter of time.
As many predicted, voice has been the big topic of CES along with its empowering cousin, artificial intelligence. That’s what tech companies are selling, anyway. In my conversations the discussion of voice led inevitably to data and then to privacy. If the tech lords are listening—and responding with delightful services and information—they’re collecting data all the while. Do we trust them?
Can they even keep the lights on?