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February 2017:

Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

February 6, 2017

Posted in: News

The folks at the annual extravaganza in the desert — the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in Las Vegas — have once again tried to convince we, the people, that our lives would be empty and meaningless unless we acquired only the latest of gadgets. These are the people who gave us 4K TVs (do you even know someone who owns one?) and keep on pushing wearable technology, as if we didn’t have enough opportunities to walk into a wall while distracted.

So what’s on the agenda this year?

Cars were big, as in “concept cars” from Honda and Toyota that use sensors to guess your mood and change the internal environment. No, I’m not kidding. The Toyota Yui collects data on pupil dilation, perspiration rate and voice tone “to assess the driver’s emotional state” and change the scene accordingly, such as switching the music. Supposedly, the car will learn your preferences for temperature, music and seat position, so it will adjust as you get in.

Using artificial intelligence (another big thing this year), it will scroll through your social media channels and tell you if friends are checked in at a nearby restaurant or coffee shop, and suggest meeting them — unless your calendar shows a meeting, at which point it will offer points on the quickest route. Honda showed the NeuV autonomous-driving car, with many of the same features.

The fact that your car will be collecting data on your mood, as well as your destination, should bother many people about their privacy. However, I’m guessing that most will trade that for a more comfortable ride. If it assesses you as hostile and heading for your ex’s house, will it call the cops?

Carmakers always show things, usually at auto shows, that rarely make it to the showroom. But since the auto sales world likely will change considerably in not-too-distant soon, they need something to make you want to trade in and step up, instead of just saying the hell with it and going with Uber.

Meanwhile, in news of something that actually could be useful, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed rules that will require cars to “speak” to each other, passing information to help avoid collisions from red-light runners and panic braking.

Zap

Also among the automakers was Faraday, a startup producing (real soon) an electric vehicle it is are trying to push as a rival for Tesla. The company is owned by a Chinese billionaire who started building a factory in Nevada, but has been plagued by financial issues, including questions on paying suppliers.

Its FF9 1 electric car unlocks when it detects the owner’s smartphone nearby, has self-parking capability and can hit 60 miles per hour in 2.39 seconds. We all need that.

Also Semi-Useless

Local superpower Under Armour showed off a line of “smart shoes,” which track your steps and look for muscle fatigue; Sleep Number showed a self-adjusting bed; and LG showed a “levitating speaker” that can float for 10 hours. Why (although if you look for “levitating speaker” on Amazon, you’ll find 242 results, including one with a built-in nightlight)?

Enter China

Driven by a slowing in the country’s domestic market, Chinese manufacturers showed at CES and set up elaborate booths in high-traffic areas, hoping to boost their name recognition. A major player, Huawei, had taken some flak as a potential security risk when trying to supply network hardware to the telecom industry and was questioned if its hardware would spy for the Chinese government.

It is, however, one of the largest smartphone makers in the world, even if largely unknown here. Its Honor line of phones has a $249 model with a dual-lens camera and two-day battery life. But it hasn’t made deals with any of the major U.S. carriers, so you won’t find it in your local phone store.

Its presence at the show was an attempt to drive consumer demand to overcome that. Its future, however, could be cloudy if a trade war and higher tariffs on Chinese goods actually come to pass.

Need Help?

Virtual assistants were everywhere. The leader this year was Amazon’s Alexa, with many other companies making devices to interface and be controlled by it, such as dimming light bulbs and a Roomba that you could command by telling Alexa to vacuum the living room. Alarm clocks and refrigerators were also involved.

All of this is being driven by leaps in artificial intelligence and accompanying better voice recognition. Will this mean an end to keyboards and buttons? Probably not, because even the best voice recognition still has a 23% error rate, although this surely will improve. Background noise can throw it off, as can not knowing if the voice is you or a TV.

On that final note, let’s not contemplate what could happen if you were listening to the famous Talking Heads’ song, “Burning Down The House.” It probably would activate your Samsung Note 7 to do just that.

Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and does PC troubleshooting, data retrieval and network setups — when not looking for any kind of intelligence. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at cliff@feldwick.com. Older columns are online at http://feldwick.com.

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