Roughly 177,000 people are expected to converge on Las Vegas next week for the Consumer Electronics Show. CES 2017 will have around 2 million square feet of exhibit space, and I’ll be there checking out the event with VentureBeat writers Ken Leung and John Brandon. We’ll all be trying to figure out what the big themes of the show will be.
JOHN CURRAN MANAGING DIRECTOR FOR COMMUNICATIONS
John Curran, managing director for communications, media, and tech at Accenture, has come up with his annual predictions of the prevailing themes at CES 2017. I interviewed him about those predictions, which can serve as a guide through the madness. His first big prediction is that artificial intelligence will be huge at the show, thanks to breakthroughs in the past few years that have made AI practical for use in a wide range of consumer services. He also believes intelligent assistants, from Siri to Alexa, will also be hot.
BUT NOT ALL WILL BE ROSY
But not all will be rosy. Curran warns that the “insecurity of things” means that consumers won’t trust Internet of Things devices until companies fix the ongoing security problems. Curran also thinks augmented reality and virtual reality will be hot, and that companies that wrap everything up in effective services will win consumers’ hearts. I also spoke with Curran about the big trends at CES 2016.
Here’s an edited transcript of our latest interview.
VentureBeat: What’s your general expectation of CES this year, compared to a year ago?
John Curran: It’s maybe the kickoff of a new wave of innovation. If I look at the big trends that are happening in the industry right now, you have some new technologies that are coming on to the scene that I think have the potential to start a wave that lasts the next couple of years. I’ll be excited to see that.
VB: What’s the first major trend you expect?
Curran: The first wave of innovation I was talking about is artificial intelligence. AI has a chance to be the story of the show this year. It’s a golden thread that will be woven through so many of the technologies that we’re going to see at CES — everything from automotive to robotics to smartphones to health and fitness. I’m excited to see how it manifests itself and permeates the show.
VB: Is that different in that everyone expects these things to work now, whatever’s using AI? In the past it always seemed very futuristic.
Curran: The technology has advanced. If you look at what you have now as a convergence of big data and analytics, machine learning, natural language processing, ubiquitous connectivity — all these things come together. You have an opportunity for device manufacturers and companies who are building services to run on those devices to leverage AI and create much easier-to-use, much more intuitive and natural customer interfaces. They can create a compelling set of new services that solve people’s everyday, pragmatic challenges and problems.
VB: What are some of the gadgets that you think will get better through AI? Everybody talks about self-driving cars, but what other variety do you see?
Curran: It runs the gamut. Automotive is certainly a spot where AI is going to be shown prominently. Smartphones have gotten better. People are used to intelligent assistants built into smartphones now. You’re going to see health and fitness devices incorporate AI, helping people come up with better exercise regimens, reminding them to take their medicine. Across the show you’ll see different companies experimenting with different executions of AI.
VB: Have you thought about who the leaders in the space might be?
Curran: In the self-driving car space we’ve had a number of companies come out and test that technology. When you think about things like intelligent assistants, we have embedded services like Siri from Apple, Google Home, Amazon Echo with Alexa. A number of big platform players are coming into the space and starting to do interesting things with both embedded AI and AI devices like the assistants.
VB: Trend number two you said was intelligent assistants. Can you explain more about that as far the distinction with AI?
Curran: Intelligent assistants are a manifestation of AI, but they’re devices or services that leverage both AI and natural language processing to help people control the devices in their homes or engage with services. It’s the ability to use voice commands and stream your music or control the temperature in your house. Set up reminders to get to your next appointment on time. These intelligent assistants create an easy-to-use interface that takes a lot of the hard work out of our everyday lives. They simplify a very frantic and hectic lifestyle by doing the routine tasks that we need to get done.
One thing on intelligent assistants that will be interesting to watch at the show is the degree to which they’re becoming platforms. We’ve had a number of new devices come to the market over the last couple of years that haven’t quite taken off in the mainstream yet. Some early success with early adopters, but the IOT devices and some of these connected devices — people have found the devices themselves to not be as intuitive or easy to use as they were hoping.
Intelligent assistants create a new user interface that allows people to take advantage of all these great devices and innovations we’ve had over the last couple of years in an easier, more obvious way. One thing to watch will be the number of joint announcements and ecosystem announcements we get at CES where the intelligent assistant companies and platforms are competing to create a rich ecosystem and an immersive set of consumer experiences.
VB: Your third trend is the “insecurity of things.” That seems to run counter to some of what you’ve talked about. AI may work, but there could be big security holes in it.
Curran: The Internet of Things is an interesting challenge right now. You have all these new connected devices coming on that have the potential to make everyday life that much better, richer, easier, more secure. But they come with some challenges. Companies have a tension in their designs. They’re trying to make these devices easy and simple to use, easy and simple to set up and connect, but in doing so many of them have put no security in place, or hard-coded passwords in place, and these devices are easy to hack.
That creates two different security threats. It’ll be interesting, at CES, to see how companies talk about addressing those threats. The first threat is more toward the back end. It’s the behind-the-scenes security threat. Hackers are able to access these devices and then use, say, home security cameras to launch a denial-of-service attack on a website. That’s already happened. We’re seeing widespread calls, including from the Department of Homeland Security, for improved security measures to close some of the vulnerabilities these devices are creating.