By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
This past weekend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in Las Vegas. It’s a major event for high tech companies; an opportunity to showcase their latest innovations and launch trial balloons on some pretty goofy gadgets. I love technology, although the relationship is not always reciprocated. My language while trying to fix our computer, iPad, Direct TV or cell phone systems would make a sailor blush. But still, I am fascinated by gadgets so it is with more than a passing interest that I follow the CES each year to see what’s on the horizon. For those of you who are sensible and don’t pay any attention to this stuff let me give you a bit of background. CES was started in 1967 in New York and featured such marvels as pocket radios, the Scottie record player (pictured) and the first TV’s with integrated circuits. Integrated circuits meant that TV’s no longer had those blasted tubes, which invariably blew out right before the Ed Sullivan Show or Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports. Each time a tube faded out it required the services of a repairman to come and replace it. Or at least it did in our house because our dad could barely tell a screwdriver from a hammer.
Over the years the CES has become the place for companies to showcase their latest inventions. It has featured such advances in technology as the cordless phone (remember when we had ONE phone in the house and it was attached to a wall?!) and the cassette tape, which eliminated vinyl records from the mainstream for decades. This week I’ve been reading about the trends for the coming year. They range from the scary to the ridiculous. First, virtual reality seems to be huge, with phone attachments and special glasses that can sweep you into another dimension. I guess given all of the drama of 2016 maybe a little “virtual” in our reality isn’t such a bad thing. The other popular trend is robotics. There is the Kuri, a home robot that has a cute little face and will perform tasks or provide information at your command. It can autonomously patrol around the house and – get this – has its own unique personality. Somehow that seems just the slightest bit creepy. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Westworld but I am highly suspicious of a robot with personality. Oh sure, at first it’s bringing me my newspaper and giving me the answer to who starred in On the Waterfront, but what stops it from telling me that I shouldn’t have that second helping of chocolate cake? Or that I really should clean up the mess in the kitchen before I sit down to read. With my luck I’d get a Kuri that had the “personality” of a nag. I think I’ll stick with Dash the Wonder Dog getting my newspaper for now.
There are all sorts of “connected” gadgets this year – ones that hop onto your wireless network and interact with each other or with you, even in your sleep. The Sleep Number company has a new bed that can sense what you’re doing all night long and make adjustments. It will automatically adjust if you snore, add an automatic night light on the bed if you get up in the middle of the night, and pre-warm the mattress to toast up your feet on a cold night. It also connects to an app to offer information on how you’re sleeping. Do we really want a machine “sensing” what we’re doing all night long? Just imagine if your local neighbor’s 15 year-old hacked your system and sent that information around the neighborhood? Or worse, if somehow the Sleep Number bed and Kuri teamed up. Maybe a robot’s idea of fun is to goof around with the Sleep Number elevation system. You’d be bobbing up and down all night.
I think I’ll stick with lower tech gadgets for now. The best thing I saw come out of the show is the Shoe that Vacuums. Yes! You can buy a pair of shoes that will pick up dust and crumbs as you stroll along your carpeting. Now that is innovation!