Tech that Touches Humanity
Executive Director of Creative Experience, VMLY&R
Starting off the new year with a deep immersion into the world of consumer technology, innovation, big ideas and an unshakable belief in progress, is a remedy for guaranteed inspiration—and CES never fails to deliver a healthy dose of it. CES is not just a consumer electronics convention showcasing the latest and greatest products, services and technology, but is also a great way to set the bar for how to engage people with connected experiences. There is no doubt that CES has made its way into the cultural zeitgeist, with its circus like approach to showcasing technology. Like it or not, it is one of the barometers for where the (consumer) future is headed.
In years past, CES was a battleground for screen size and computational power—a competition for whose technology is bigger, better, faster, vying for autonomous this and robotic that, appending all kinds of indecipherable letters like AI, AR, VR and ML to everything on display, with every brand attempting to throw their hat into the technology ring for the sake of technology itself. Exhausting. Technology at CES can, at times, overinflate expectations with its brash and bold promises, selling everyone on the future, in Vegas…a lot of big gambles.
This year felt different.
orld is starting to feel the effects of the abrasiveness of technology, the machine-like rigidity of the utilities and the services that we all count on each and every day to make our lives easier. But technology simply isn’t delivering the human touch people crave and need in order to have a good experience.
is year’s conference, there seemed to be a shift in focus, a slow, glacial-like pivot from big brash promises of technology to an empathic and human-centric embrace. “A new focus area and major theme at CES 2019 will be resilience,” said Karen Chupka, executive vice-president of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and organizer of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). "We define resilience as the place where technologies are going to help keep the world healthy, safe, warm, powered, fed and secure. And, this is kind of a new area that will be adjacent to our Smart Cities area," added Chupka. "…we feel that this is [an] important topic because when we look at all the disasters that have been taking place throughout the world, we need to make sure that we have redundancies and then, quite frankly, also look at ways tech can really help improve lives for everybody." Refreshing!
In addition to that new theme, CES added a dedicated “Advanced Health” area focused on digital therapeutics and remote patient monitoring with brands like Philips, 3M, and Aetna. This subtle shift to a more human-centric focus may not have been recognized by many, but is an important signal to pay attention to. Health and wellness, especially in the realm of consumer technology, with its focus on human centricity, empathy, value, and experience, may very well be indicative of where CES–and the entire consumer tech industry—is headed.
P&G, the world’s biggest advertiser, showed up with a new consumer tech area, featuring their best health and wellness products. They spoke about delivering more value to the customer through technology augmentation with features such as their facial recognition and skin checking AI algorithm. “P&G is integrating cutting-edge technologies into everyday products and services to improve people’s lives,” explained Kathy Fish, P&G’s chief research, development and innovation officer. “We’re combining what’s needed with what’s possible. By answering the question, ‘what if,’ we’re delivering irresistibly superior consumer experiences.” P&G wasn’t the only brand showcasing the latest and greatest health and wellness products and experiences.
WITHINGS launched “BPM Core,” a cardiovascular monitor that can measure blood pressure, take an electrocardiogram (which is used to identify AFib, atrial fibrillation), and listen to the heart via a digital stethoscope —an all-in-one device. Another company called “Seismic,” discussed seamlessly integrating fashion and technology. They are pioneering activewear fused with discreet robotics, creating “powered clothing” that augments human strength and gives people a physical advantage in their personal lives.
“Lumen” was at CES as well, showing off what they believe is the first device to hack metabolism and lose weight. They launched a handheld breath analyzer with a sensor and flow meter that uses AI and machine learning to calculate the carbon dioxide concentration in your breath, indicating the “fuel” your body is using to produce energy. Medical Wearable Solutions showcased its “EyeForcer,” smart eyewear that can monitor posture. The Eyeforcer uses technology to help reduce neck pain and damage that can occur as people look down at their devices.
It felt like this year health and wellness stood out as the big winner at CES. We saw everything from blood pressure monitoring to innovations in sperm potency and beyond. What is promising here is that the barriers that once held technology back from innovating in the health and wellness space are gone, and we now have the building blocks to architect and orchestrate amazing experiences. We are already seeing those kinds of great experiences being brought to market, and what is really exciting, is that this is just the beginning.
The futurist Ray Kurzweil once predicted that "human life will be irreversibly transformed" by technology, and that humans will transcend the "limitations of our biological bodies and brain.” At the time, his vision felt like a very nascent prediction, but now it feels closer than ever. And in true wellness form, could we have asked for a better healthy cherry on top of this year at CES than the introduction of the plant-based Impossible Burger 2.0? People will be people…