It’s that time of year to put myself on the line and make some predictions for CES, the global meeting place for business leaders and pioneering innovators intent on changing the way we go about our daily lives.

That said, some things never change – particularly the effect CES has on the mainstream media. It crosses over to the general news pages, broadcast channels and most-read online stories sections simply because it is such a huge and influential tech event. But mostly what you’ll read are reports of gadget launches, very much in the vein of the BBC’s ever-reliable technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. We can also expect social channels like Twitter to be awash with opinions of a somewhat controversial keynote choice.

As leaders in tech innovation ourselves, so it’s not the gadgets that excite us*, but the significant social and technological trends that underpin them. After all, they telegraph future impact on business well beyond the Consumer Electronics industry (from where the Show gets its name). CES is a magnet for a plethora of industries and hosts everything from automotive to medical, 3D printing to smart cities. From all over the world. The scope couldn’t be broader, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Going to CES 2020?

It’s these implications that are top of mind gazing into the crystal ball that nestles on my seat-back table as I wing my way to Vegas. There are five areas that have broad significance whatever your industry sector: natural user interfaces, AI beyond the hype, the prospects for 5G, the megatrend that is personalisation and – inevitably – the environment.

The trend towards zero UI

CES 2019 was Alexa-v-Google year and I'm sure the battle for voice interface dominance will continue. (A shower that can hear you sing, anyone?) But the struggle for supremacy is simply part of a long term trend towards zero UI. This year we expect to see more types of screenless interfaces, for both individual products and whole systems, that go beyond voice, to other types of sensing and contextual awareness.

Unlocking the real power of AI

Many breakthroughs will be powered by types of AI, which will be an abused buzzword all over the show, I'm sure. Beyond all the hype, I think focus will start shifting towards what we call ‘AI at the edge’, using low-cost, low-power devices to perform complex machine learning tasks.

We are expecting to see more ‘explainable AI’. This is the idea that the real power of AI will be unlocked when what’s happening inside the currently impenetrable black box becomes clear. It is a breakthrough that will be essential for decision-support applications, and not just autonomous vehicles. It is a matter of trust, which is another area ripe for developments – with technologies specifically designed to help people trust how their data is being used, how it is protected, and to prevent misuse.

Mainstream 5G, to be or not to be?

Last year I predicted that CES 2020 would be the year that showcased 5G mainstream applications. I may be proved right but I'm less convinced. There are three broad application types being targeted by 5G developers and I think only the most obvious one, Enhanced Mobile Broadband (EMBB), will be seen here. Ultra-reliable low-latency comms for control, and next generation M2M or IoT applications are a little further out, maybe, but we'll see.

Brand loyalty from personalisation

Personalisation, based on the premise that products and services can work together to provide an experience uniquely tailored to your needs, will be another big talking point at CES. The idea is not new, of course. The sports and fitness industry has really accelerated it, and there are currently significant developments in the personal care and beauty markets. It will be interesting to see which other markets are looking to enhance engagement with their consumers to drive brand loyalty through extreme personalisation.  

The environmental impact

Finally, it is hard to imagine that the increased awareness in environmental concerns won’t have an impact on the show. Frankly it’s a relief.  Many of my colleagues, who have been concerned about sustainability for many years, will be pleased to see Design for Environment (DfE) become a mainstream rather than a niche motivation for high volume product brands. I hope it will.

Watch out for more updates from me on social media this week, and if you are at CES please stop by to say hello and discuss the business impact of these tech trends with me or my expert colleagues. We’re at Sands Expo, Level 2, Halls A-D, Booth 44137.

Instagram: @duncan_tech. Twitter: @_Duncan_Smith


*Of course we love gadgets. We are geeks!

Duncan Smith
EVP, North America