A Very Few and Strange Glimpses of the Future

CES, now in full swing out in Las Vegas, is a trade show, and as such, occupies a complicated (if totally reasonable) place between “what will people buy each other for Christmas later this year” and “hey, look at the neat thing we can do!” So much of what is displayed there seems openly transitional. Producers of goods just can’t hide it when they know they’re only halfway onto what’s next — and consumers know. (Are you 28 or older? Congratulations, you are older than the compact disc. Bought one recently?) But digging through the oodles of things on display, we can find some inklings of what’s to come down the road that’s actually interesting. (And tomorrow we’ll look at Shiny Brand New Things that you actually would maybe even want to buy).

So this is what people think is happening: “The next big transformation is on us; the marriage between television sets and the Internet. It is clear that consumers are ready for it,” is what Sony honcho Howard Stringer is saying. (A statement oddly reminiscent of a certain infamous Onion News Network video about Sony!) That is not really I think true? We want to use the Internet to speedily access actual good TV content. But nobody wants to watch YouTube videos on their big flat-screen TV. So it’s not so much a marriage as, you know, most effectively utilizing a delivery platform.


The fabled Microsoft Surface, in its newest iteration, is a transitional object. It costs $7600; it’s being marketed for business uses. That being said, remember when 50-inch flat TVs cost $15,000? Yeah, that was like a few years ago. This is a thing, a thing we want in our future, only more of it for less, of course, like everything else.

Sony is also going big on 3D, even while it’s busy marrying off television and the Internet. (The Internet: Still Not In 3D.) So they’ve got a ton of stuff like the 3D 1080p camera. Sony actually seems like it’s banking everything on 3D:

Sony also showed off prototypes of a 3D visor you could wear to watch 3D content on a plane, as well as a portable Blu-ray player that would join those cameras in being “glassless.” It’s working on making glassless 3D work on full-sized TVs too.

Plus Sony is going into business with IMAX and Discovery on an all-3D channel?

I do not have small children, so I am never going to purchase a 3D anything, not until there’s like, hologram players for my living room.

But there’s lots of little consumer goods that will impact the way we look and make at things. The body-mounted camera? Oh yes, get ready for a lot of horrifically bouncing video in the near future. Fun though!

You can see a new beginning in medical applications, from the blood pressure iPhone plugin to the liquid crystal bifocals.

And you can see some slight innovation, in a kind of fabulous old-school way, with the forthcoming Casio wristphone (sure you want to take phone calls from your wrist!) and things like molding earbuds.

You can also see throughout the show how innovation is subject to capitalism. We could have a dreamy world without cell towers, or bloated cell company services! Peer-to-peer mesh networks are totally possible. But there’s a series of entrenched financial interests that’ll surely prevent this from happening. (Or perhaps we’ll be surprised. Things are possible!)

What we’re also not seeing at CES is exciting robot innovation. We always assume our future is full of robots, making us cheese sandwiches and talking to us about our problems. But the most forward-looking robots at CES seem to be the latest Roomba and… this.

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