CES 2019 in Las Vegas: A conversation with our CiNO Brent Seely

CES 2019 (the Consumer Electronics Show) has served as the proving ground for breakthrough technologies for 50 years. Attendance numbers for this Vegas conference hover around 200,000, with 4,000+ exhibitors and 1,000+ speakers. 

Today we bring you a virtual mash-up of conversations between our Chief Innovation Officer Brent Seely and a range of Factora colleagues [FC].

FC: How long were you there – and what was it like? I’ve always wanted to go!

Brent: A few days. I’d summarize it as too many people and lonnnng queues. Tons of walking and waiting, mixed with equal helpings of hype. But at the end, you see some things that are really, really cool. A bit like going to Disneyworld.

FC: And what are your takeaways?

Brent: There were two that I think will impact our clients most in the next couple of years. First one is 5G as a disrupter.

You’re going to get 1Gb speeds to devices like cell-phones.  For our clients, it means it will make it easier to connect a lot of devices in the factory to the internet.  Conceivably, they could even put a 5G cell station in a factory and connect up to … hmmm … maybe a million devices. With a cost orders of magnitude less than putting in all the infrastructure for WIFI.

It will be so much more practical to connect a lot of devices to the cloud. Think of video and remote control … 5G has virtually no latency, low power and high reliability.

FC: Impressive! And what’s the second takeaway?

Brent: Artificial Intelligence is everywhere and is growing up fast. We’re still talking rules-based AI and machine-learning models, but we’re now at the point that AI will be impacting everyone’s job. We’ll see basic AI everywhere, taking over a lot of routine chores. And in a few years, AI will move into more cognitive learning and the ability to draw upon lots of shared experiences for decision-making – for example, beating humans at debates; assembling IKEA furniture; maybe even composing poetry.

One of the first examples of AI was photography. Point-and-shoot has been available for a while, and it just keeps getting smarter. That’s happening now to most hardware and software products.

I chose photography as an example, because AI is now evolving towards small data, rather than big. Which makes it increasingly nimble and adaptable. That’s why you can now ask Alexa to turn on the light and Siri how traffic looks on the way home. It’s why info robots are turning up in airports and shopping malls. And increasingly, all that adaptability is available to us on the shop floor, allowing the automation of more and more routine tasks. It’s amazing, how much automating this thing and that thing can really start to add up.

Bottom line, AI is real and it’s everywhere – not just in fancy sci-fi movies. And now you don’t need a Data Scientist to take advantage of it, it’s becoming just another tool in our belt.

FC: So of all the sessions you went to, what was your favourite?

Brent: I especially enjoyed the keynote by IBM’s CEO, Ginny Rometty. By the way, all the keynotes are up on Youtube, so you might want to take a look.

FC: Okay … that’s it? Anything else? New things in general, not just in manufacturing? You know, flying cars, stuff like that?

Brent: Funny you mention that one! They’ve already got driverless taxis in Phoenix, so other cities won’t be too far behind. But here’s the biggie: autonomous flying taxis are only a few years away. We should see them in places like Sao Paulo within 3 or 4 years. It’s mainly government regulations that are slowing down their adoption, not technology. And drones are everywhere, especially for commercial applications.

FC: Flying cars! We’ve finally reached the Jetsons age.

Brent: Actually, we’re finally ahead of it, because George Jetson had to pilot the thing. And for the sports and movie lovers in the crowd, 8K TVs are now being shipped, some of them with 8K AI to upscale the image. It’s a beyond-belief viewing experience, in terms of depth and realism.

One more thing. I have to mention how fast computers are actually getting. By 2024, a $1000 computer will have the processing power of a human brain.  And 20 years after that, a $1000 computer will have the processing power of all human brains. I’m not sure which stat I find more startling. Ideas like that are like the show itself – it’s almost too much to take in.