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CES 2018: Design and Designers Take Center Stage

The leading names in the digital and technology industries recently unveiled what they do best at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this past January 2018. Gadgets and gizmos galore wowed visitors from the world over, but the burning question remains: What for? Getting to the bottom of this dilemma will be the real showstopper.

Self-driving cars, home automation, pollution sensors, smart watches, fitness-tracking devices, “Fundawear®-type” undies, drones, digital and connected distribution, paperless currency, “mega-giant” screens, avatars, holograms, robots and artificial intelligence. Each year in January, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is the chance to get up close and personal with all the latest in tech trends and demos.

Although the trends abound, it is tricky to single out just one this year other than the undeniable fact that we are headed straight towards a “hyperconnected”, “far-reaching”, “digitalized”, if not “augmented”, day-to-day. Every inch of our actions, routine and personality will be scrutinized, from top to bottom, by “Big Data” companies claiming they have at their fingertips the power and means capable of predicting our consumer behavior tomorrow, one based on common practices and no longer on needs. Good-bye, Marketing. Your days are numbered.

Aside from this mini revolution on the verge of eruption, there was nothing really new on the electronics and technology fronts; nothing we haven’t seen already, that is. CES remains, nonetheless, the hotbed for businesses and business folks alike looking to see and be seen, rub elbows, compare goods and services, collaborate, fund-hunt and unearth opportunities wherein to source and share knowledge. It goes without saying that this meet-up is key to fully understanding and truly getting a handle on the world of tomorrow.

But, the sustainability of CES does not depend on the technology on display. Among the wonders included 300 pre-programmed drones flying in a tight space without crashing into one another, a driverless car-gone-driving movie theater once on the highway, a 180-degree spin on medicine where your smart bracelet replaces your physician, and the robot surgeon with his speedy knee replacement jobs in under an hour after which he cranks out procedure after procedure as if on an assembly line without a break in between. We knew this would happen one day as it has been a long time coming. We are hardly even surprised anymore.

The technology available today offers us infinite possibilities; however, technology alone is not enough. What we plan to do with that technology will be the ultimate game changer.

The 300 drones that fly together without flying into one another are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to conceiving and configuring not only the happenings on the ground of the cities of tomorrow, but also in the space situated well above them in the sky. They are bound to revolutionize the delivery process of pizzas, books and clothes ordered online, as well as the realm of transportation. Should the self-driving car become our office, then there is no more need to drive the car. As a result, organization of the work day and company operations on the whole will require revamping. If the car is remote-controlled, and if there are no more accidents, then there will be no more need for insurance. Entire segments of the financial economy could crumble to pieces. The same goes for smart watches that track your physical and biological activity, raising the question of whose responsibility it is to flag to you when you are at-risk or flat out sick. If, by any chance, your watch stops working properly, and you suffer a heart attack, who is to be held accountable?

Lastly, let’s say you have a bionic leg. Should you accidentially kick a wall of a building and that building collapses, are you still accountable for the leg although you claim it is not human?

It is not technology that matters, but what we plan to do with it. Despite the lack of any one trend emerging from the developments, CES 2018 reflects  a time of questioning and growing anxiety. “Science without conscience is the soul’s perdition”* never carried with it as much meaning or relevance as it does today. Practices and design will, going forward, follow suit with this ambitious digital metamorphosis. “What are we going to do with that?” is the only question that matters.

Keeping time with a vision as endeavoring as this means predicting and depicting what we will be able to do with this technology. It involves not only envisioning the practices of tomorrow, but instilling in them both meaning and purpose. And in the pursuit of value, designers will be present every step of the way. They will become marketing specialists for all tactical aspects and organizational change leaders for all strategic ones. And only those organizations with a flair for foresight, novelty and transformation will thrive.

CES 2018 is the rare and unique occasion wherein we are able to partake in this industrial revolution like none other that fuses the notions of digital and “connection”. The real revolution, however, is one with meaning, value, progress and design, the latter of which formulates the future with one condition in mind: generating wealth for all.

* Quotation by François Rabelais, Pantagruel (1532)

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