The old Silicon Valley adage pronounced that “software eats everything,” and sure enough, CES 2020 revealed that software is at the heart of almost everything. It’s powering limitless devices from smart cities to smart homes to infinitely small and personal smart devices. Over 4,400 companies presented their products at CES this year, and almost all had their core functionality enabled by software and were labeled as smart. The megatrend at CES 2020 was that software is making almost every tool, toy or device that a human can use “smart.” Software indeed is eating everything.
Let’s start with the Toyota announcement that it is planning to build a smart city from the ground up. The Woven City will only have autonomous cars and various mobility solutions, in-home and on-street robotics and a plethora of connected technologies. But what’s interesting about Toyota’s announcement is that it will feature a “digital operating system” that connects all these smart and autonomous devices.
Moving on from smart cities and streets to the smart house. On display were countless “smart” devices that are powered by AI, such as smart water meters, as well as smart washers and dryers that can detect the volume and weight of laundry and the type of fabric used in each load to optimize washing and drying. Then there were Alexa-controlled smart showers that can play music and carry out voice commands. Also, there was a smart Alexa-enabled mirror that offers advice on skincare with an augmented reality (AR) function.
Also on display at CES were smart sex toys that have mobile apps and can make personal recommendations based on personal data collected. One ended up being on the finalist award list for CES 2020. We are moving into a new and riskier stage in consumer privacy, where old fashioned analog devices are becoming smarter, collecting intimate data and sharing it with vendors. This goes beyond sharing information on social media or financial data, and this should raise some questions from all of us.
There was a smart toothbrush that tracks how you brush your teeth and downloads the data to an app that makes AI-based personalized recommendations on how to better brush your teeth. There were smart clothes that can check on your sleep, smartwatches that can use optical blood oxygen sensors to sense sleep interruptions and an ECG watch that can detect atrial fibrillation.
On display were numerous robots that give us a glimpse of the future, such as a ping-pong playing robot that uses AI to play against a human opponent. It seems like our future will be filled with robots that can help improve our daily lives but also collect data on our physical abilities and mental status. Again, more intimate data is being shared with vendors.
Also on display was the impressive AI-powered prosthetic that connects with the user’s brain waves. One of the very personalized solutions was an app with a wrist band that can optimize healthier grocery shopping using your previously sequenced DNA from your saliva sample.
One remarkable product was Samsung’s Neon AI-generated “artificial humans,” which are video chatbots that look and behave like humans. Neon aims at having realistically looking digital humans that can act as teachers, health care advisers and assistants. We’ve witnessed the rise of voice-enabled devices after many years of improvements, and, therefore, it is very likely that this form of interface could play a big role in the future.
But what does all this mean, and what are the implications? When software is at the heart of all these internet-connected devices, it is expected that these devices will have remote continuous upgrades, with screens, voice-enabled and/or mobile apps, yet with varying user experiences and interfaces. All those internet-connected and software-powered devices will allow us to share more of our intimate data, with sharing going beyond and possibly bypassing social media.
Furthermore, studies report that technology failure amounts to one-third to one-half of users’ time, leading to frustration and causing dissatisfaction and productivity loss. Studies have also shown that higher use of technology leads to frustration and causes psychological impacts linked to the “fear of missing out” (FOMO), internet addiction, extraversion and neuroticism. We are potentially looking at a future society that will have even higher FOMO, device addiction and neuroticism.
However, a more worrisome and a bigger issue is that heaps of personal data are being collected on our health, what we buy, what we cook, what we watch, what we wash, how we sleep, how we exercise and even how we have sex. These enormous amounts of personal data that are being collected will play a double-edged sword. Technology can improve our lives, yet it can also create opportunities for data breaches and enable the rise of what is being called surveillance capitalism.
To address this, consumers will have to become more technology- and data privacy-savvy. They need to understand what data is being shared and with who, as well as how it is being used. A big lesson I learned from CES 2020 is that consumers will have to be in the driver’s seat and evaluate the costs and benefits of sharing intimate data. Consumers need to step up and request ownership of their intimate data.
Vendors will have to step up and substantially enhance their cybersecurity postures, protect consumers’ data and be very explicit about how data is processed and shared. Vendors need to inform the consumers and allow them to own and share their data as they see fit.
Finally, legislators at the federal level will need to step up and consider passing laws to protect consumers similar to the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) and the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
If data is not protected and owned by the users, it could mean the loss of even more intimate and private aspects of our lives. If data privacy and protection issues are not properly addressed by companies, the public and the legislators, our private lives will be eaten by software.