The CES show in Vegas is the annual event which sees much of the showcase for current and future trends in technology. As its name implies (Consumer Electronics Show) the focus is at first on consumers but much of what appears here has implications for the commercial and business market as well.
In thinking about some of the trends we have seen in the past couple of years it strikes me that we are rapidly entering a world of automation which is very different than the one we have seen in the past couple of decades.
In the past automation has been mostly about production using advanced mechanical and electro mechanical machinery to produce goods and products. Think of the modern automotive assembly line with specialized robots to handle many of the tasks, often those most risky to human injury such as moving large assemblies or painting.
What is being seen today however, and showcased in many of the products being shown in Vegas at CES is the automation of many everyday tasks that consumers deal with.
Think of Home Automation which permits managing such basic things as lighting, temperature, opening doors, garage doors, and home security. With systems available today and a bit of ingenuity (standards are not yet fully established) the person who wants to really push the limits can build a home environment where all of these interactions are either scheduled to follow your personal timetable or set to be monitored when a home becomes vacant due to residents being out on their daily activities. Once the household status is determined temperature can be adjusted to encourage energy savings, doors can be set for more secure operation, cameras can be set to record when motion is detected, and lighting can be turned off to save energy. Systems can even anticipate when home users will return and start adjusting things for occupant presence in advance.
These systems are not perfect as yet, nor are they necessarily low cost although parts of them are pretty cost effective and can have decent payback periods especially in times of higher home energy cots as we are experiencing in Canada
If you read anything about the auto press these days it will most likely be about announcements related to another version of electric vehicle.
Today's announcement at the Detroit Auto Show featured a new VW concept vehicle a retro microbus which is a self driving, electric version. In many ways this is no longer a 'new' concept as most mainline and new auto manufacturers are working on or delivering some sort of alternative energy vehicle. GM, Toyota, Ford, Honda, VW, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar, Volvo and others have all either shown, introduced or announced their intentions to build and deliver electric cars.
Of course just changing the power train does not encompass the totality of the proposed changes. New cars today are including many automated features designed to enhance the user's interface with the vehicle and in many cases include better safety.
New entrants into the auto field include Tesla, probably the most talked about new entrant in history. Google, Apple, Uber. Lift and many other non traditional auto companies are all actively involved in researching and even testing self driving autos.
Go test drive any major manufacturers' newest models and you will find features built in that you have not seen before. Many of them leveraging new changes in sensor technology to introduce things like blind spot detection, all kinds of collision avoidance features, radar driven cruise control that can include auto braking, lane change warnings and tons of other innovations. The import of these changes is the fact they are available on relatively lower cost models not just the high end top of the line products.
All of these major changes have been led by the rapid change in mobile technology. Current model mobile devices are highly automatic in their operation, often handling major components of operation in the background with no user interaction.
Take a picture and have it instantly uploaded to your cloud storage area for retrieval in many ways. Auto post to social media sites. Receive a steady stream of notifications about various information streams, event notices or reminders. Auto update your background OS and the hundreds of apps which populate your mobile device. Manage your banking, your investing, your purchasing and much more automatically or semi-automatically.
Sometimes I wonder if these convenience features are being built in and promoted mostly to increase the traffic your device generates leading to the need for a higher capacity and more costly connection plan. Of course that might be just being cynical not a conspiracy theory.
An Automated Future
Whatever your sense or point of view on automation a changed future is ahead of us. An analog world is hard to find today and in most fields that we experience we will be impacted by the push for automation.
Of course even bigger leaps are ahead with things like Artificial Intelligence, where machine learning is applied to transactions, designs and delivery. Many creative and well financed organizations are working to refine AI capabilities expanding the potential for even more to be done without human interaction.
Good? Bad? Neutral? The answer to these question will most likely come with the applications being made with the new learning. History tells us that most major human advances have both negative and positive potential. Ensuring that the positive prevails is one of the challenges that must be met. See you in your more automated world. Much that has happened in the world of IT has been designed to automate the drudgery and reduce the risks of negative impacts. As automation expands further continued diligence will be needed and should be welcomed.
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