Every year, the Consumer Technology Association provides a roadmap to the coming year with its “Tech Trends to Watch” talk at CES, its annual convention and trade show in Las Vegas. I couldn’t attend this year, but I tuned into the livestream of the Tech Trends event and picked up the 2024 predictions. As always, note that CTA is the nonprofit booster organization of the tech industry, so its predictions come with an agenda and are always rose-colored—even bad news gets a positive spin here. I’ll also provide some observations and opinions based on many years of attending CES and watching the industry.
This year’s presentation was given by Brian Comiskey, Director of Thematic Programs at CTA, and Jessica Boothe, Director of Research. I missed Steve Koenig, historically one of two presenters of Tech Trends (see “CES 2022: Another Year, More Tech Trends,” 13 January 2022), who reliably sprinkled his presentation with dad jokes and groaner puns.
The talk began with a somewhat anomalous discussion of the youth consumer market; Tech Trends tends to present a few slides on the overall market before delving into any segments. Generation Z is generously defined here as ages 11 through 26 and adds up to 69 million Americans, or roughly one-quarter of the US population. Unsurprisingly, they’re more likely to splurge on tech purchases than the rest of us, but given their limited purchasing power, one wonders how many lined up for Apple Vision Pro. Globally, 90% of Generation Z is in emerging markets, but CTA didn’t comment on whether this is good or bad for the tech industry. Presumably, it’s good that a new generation with a solid interest in technology is coming online, but that raises the issue of what percentage of that market can afford to purchase these gadgets, especially the pricey latest-and-greatest announced at CES.
After that, the presenters took a step back. Worldwide, 5.4 billion people are on the Internet—including people who connect only with their phones—and this is expected to increase by another billion by 2027. This is roughly 65% of humanity now and a projected 77% in only 3 years, which seems optimistic without any indication of what would drive these new adoptions. That said, I would have guessed that over two-thirds are online now, and I’m surprised that around 10% of the US and EU are not yet online.
The presentation then turned to the “digital infrastructure,” one of many buzzwords that the CTA reps began to toss into the presentation. Digital infrastructure comprises the connectivity methods used to transmit information and the “digital utilities” that can be derived from that connectivity. A digital utility can be defined as anything reaching an audience that’s transmitted over these networks, including TidBITS. But this talk is focused on the cutting edge, so CTA highlighted perennial favorites like artificial intelligence and robotics, cloud computing, and cybersecurity, with a new emphasis on AI.
Among the advanced connectivity methods: NextG, a catchall term for whatever comes after 5G networks; Internet of Things and edge computing, which refer to adding Internet connections to everything from toasters to crop sensors; and Li-Fi, a visible-light networking technique which may be preferable to Wi-Fi due to higher security under certain conditions.
Unsurprisingly, CTA believes the key drivers of upcoming technological trends are AI and sustainability, with the creation of “green tech” that is less resource-intensive, closer to carbon-neutral, and easier on power grids than the technology of the past. CTA adds “inclusivity” to these two drivers, but it’s hard to square its addition with the other two without more evidence. CTA defines inclusivity as assistive technologies for the handicapped, but I’ve already noted the economic barriers facing Generation Z and emerging markets, and I would include those as barriers to inclusion. CTA highlights strides in assistive technologies for underserved markets, but whether these will have an impact large enough to be measured against global trends remains to be seen.
Fully 90% of Americans are aware of AI but are probably only familiar with ChatGPT, which is a tiny slice of where we’ll encounter AI in the very near future. It will be embedded in chips and sensors in a wide range of technologies, be added to TVs, and generally be part of the digital infrastructure. CTA gave a special callout to Microsoft Copilot, the AI that Microsoft is adding to Windows and Office 365 that will have a dedicated keyboard key on new computers. Apple already dedicates a function key to Siri, and Siri will likely someday get the generative AI oomph we’re seeing elsewhere, but one wonders when that might happen and how effective it will be when it arrives.
A fascinating slide on consumer sentiment about AI technologies followed, discussing how many people agreed with particular adjectives relating to AI. CTA summarized this as “most people are positive about AI,” but I read this slide as a thoroughly mixed bag. It’s interesting that over one-third of respondents already see AI as “intelligent” (AI researchers argue this point ad infinitum), and one-quarter think of it as “helpful” and “efficient.” But I see the keywords like “unpredictable,” “scary,” “impersonal,” and “intimidating” also got a large number of responses. And look at the bottom four items on the list! While the AI expert community has proponents and detractors, it seems that the more educated someone is about AI, the more mindful they are of the wide range of technologies and aspects of society that will be disrupted soon.
For this reason, it’s unsurprising that nearly three-quarters of respondents believe there’s a strong role to be played by the federal government in regulating AI and its implementations, citing privacy, disinformation, safety, and job loss as key concerns. But at issue here is whether and how that regulation will take place.
CTA then switched to discussing sustainability and presented several positive statistics about technology’s impacts on the climate and environment. Improvements to batteries using graphene technology will reduce the carbon footprint of new batteries by 25%—which may not sound like a big deal until you consider that upcoming improvements to power grids will require a ridiculously large increase in battery manufacturing. CTA says that renewable energy constituted 12% of global electricity generation in 2022, a respectable number but lower than some might have hoped. (However, other sources say electricity production from renewables is closer to 33%, and the lower figure is in consumption, not generation.) In the past year, $326 billion has been invested in new energy technologies, including hydrogen and nuclear fusion—a large sum, but there are significant barriers that have to be overcome (if possible) before these can be put into use.
CTA claims we’re on track to having carbon-free electrical generation in the United States by 2035 and a “net zero” carbon impact by 2050. I put “net zero” in quotes because experts define it in various ways—does it refer to zero emissions or potentially bogus carbon offsets? In either case, the less carbon pumped into the atmosphere, the better, so this is good news. The real question is whether it will be good enough news, given that any increase in global temperatures has real and expensive impacts, and we’re expected to have quite a bit of that.
CTA highlighted three new tech releases of interest. Exeger announced a new product called Powerfoyle, which looks to be “what if duct tape could be a solar power cell?” Jackery announced the Solar Mars Bot, an Earthbound portable rover (inspired by the Opportunity rover) that has high portability when folded up but can generate 600 watts of solar power with its wings extended. The Midbar Air Farm can grow food anywhere it’s set up by pulling moisture from the air and watering plants with up to 99% less water than is needed in traditional farming.
CTA then shifted to discussing inclusive technologies on display at CES—and again, I’m unclear why they’re using this terminology rather than the more common “assistive” or “accessibility” terms. CTA claims that there are 1.8 billion disabled people in the world, which seems high, given that the World Health Organization’s number is 500 million lower, but likely varies based on definitions of disability. Regardless, CTA claimed that companies with inclusive technology see a 60% increase in revenue (over what?), so I guess that’s doing well by doing good? On deck were the Garmin Venu 3 smartwatch, which can integrate with wheelchairs and provide workouts for those using them, and the prototype EssilorLuxottica Hearable Glasses, which feature built-in hearing aid technology.
Also mentioned, but perhaps less related to assistive technology, is the Umay “Secure Walking Tool,” which appears to be an app that provides up-to-date safety information along a projected walking route. It’s advertised as “for women,” but as a traveling pedestrian, I’d also like to know whether a short route is as walkable as it seems on Google Maps when I’m in a new city.
CTA says the health technology market for women will reach $1.2 trillion by 2027, though one wonders how companies gender-match technology considering that my Apple Watch SE offers to track my non-existent ovulation. It seems to me that several of CTA’s health challenges facing women are equally applicable to men, although medical gender bias is inarguably a serious issue that needs to be addressed, probably more by societal rather than technological means.
From the Digital Health sector of the show, CTA highlighted Amira Health’s forthcoming Terra Sleep system, which monitors overnight hot flashes and automatically regulates a cooling pad to increase comfort. The company also provides Amy, an AI system that can answer health questions about menopause. Abbott announced the Proclaim XR, one of several surgical implant systems that can reduce chronic pain and help with other conditions. Healthplus.ai’s Periscope system is designed to help hospitals lower the post-surgical infection rate by determining the risks patients present in advance.
In mobility news, CTA claims that the future of cars is electric and self-driving, although, on that latter point, San Francisco would beg to differ for the time being. CES attendees also found electric motors integrated into other forms of transportation, including boats, scooters, bikes, and—because this is CES—flying cars. CTA says the rate of release and adoption of EV technologies will be based on how well the market responds to the values people place on driving EV vehicles, including better stewardship of the environment and other factors. More practically, according to my electric-car-driving editor, adoption is hampered mainly by cost and charging challenges for apartment dwellers and those taking long trips. Significant efforts are being made on charging networks, but people must adjust their thinking away from the gas station model.
Kia’s Platform Beyond Vehicle prototype is thinking well outside the box. The premise is that a single car has a base vehicle and modular components, so a PBV could change between running as a van, a truck, or a car by swapping out one module and swapping in another. Kia doesn’t explain how one would do this at home—or justify the cost of buying multiple modules for the same base vehicle—but the premise is cool. Garmin’s Autoland system is in the “hopefully, you’ll never need it” category; it will automatically land a general aviation plane if the pilot is incapacitated. (Don’t eat the fish!) And if you’re looking to get around on an electric scooter that folds up into a rolling briefcase, Honda has you covered with the Motocompacto ($995), which has a top speed of 15 MPH and enough battery oomph to travel 12 miles—after which it can charge on a standard outlet.
Meanwhile, back home, there’s a push to make the biggest screen in your home the smartest one. Various companies are striving to turn your TV into a central command center to control home automation technologies and cameras and provide a one-stop e-commerce shopping center. (Something I’m sure we’ve all been waiting for.) Additionally, tomorrow’s TVs will expand on your current video lineup with interactive videos and “nonlinear” programming—think Choose Your Own Adventure and YouTube in addition to what’s currently on offer. Color me skeptical, and that’s before we get into the privacy issues surrounding smart TVs (see “How to Turn Off Smart TV Automatic Content Recognition,” 18 December 2023). I’d rather control my smart lights from my phone than walk from my living room to my bedroom in the dark, and I’d rather do my shopping on my Mac, where I can pull up Wirecutter and avoid Amazon’s sponsored items cluttering my searches. I’m sure that at a future CES, there will be TVs that “allow” me to have a curated “shopping experience” where I can buy a sweater or oversized tote bag featured on a popular TV show.
However, one proposed integration may be a hit with some. Now that online sports betting is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, and given that the TV is already where most people like to watch sports, having wagers a few button presses away during the game could be attractive to many people. If costly.
What’s really going on is that TV manufacturers are looking for reasons to get you to continue to upgrade since most people already have the largest TV that will fit in their homes, and there isn’t much reason to upgrade to an 8K TV. Still, expect to see more variety in streaming services as they move to include more international programming and multilingual content libraries. I expect that will accelerate in 2024 while we’re still in the Hollywood release lull caused by last year’s writer and actor strikes. Americans have long been resistant to dubbed and subtitled programming, but then Squid Game came along and Netflix had its own Gangnam Style.
Overall, the tech industry is in the midst of a pivot from primarily providing the hardware to also providing the software and services the hardware uses. Of the $512 billion domestic market for consumer technology projected for 2024, 68% will be from hardware and 32% from software and services—which may account for Apple insisting on continuing to take its cut from software sales in other app stores. The big driver in software and services is entertainment; the lion’s share is in gaming on every screen you own.
The presentation wrapped with an overview of how technology empowers “human securities,” including agricultural technology, smart communities, and financial technology. I would have liked to hear more about this, but CTA quickly segued to a discussion of food technology that ranged from smart tractors to a Keurig-style machine for ice cream to a vending machine that serves fresh noodles. (I’d review the noodles, but the closest one is 90 minutes from here, so I’ll leave it to Adam to check out the one in Ithaca.)
Amusingly, the slides I downloaded end with this:
…but my notes from the presentation don’t have this slide or any particular answers to the question. So, I’ll contribute my own: CES is a great place to see the upcoming weird, wacky, and wonderful in consumer tech, and when I can’t attend, I look forward to seeing the coverage this generates in the media. When I can attend, I enjoy finding tidbits of relevance to TidBITS, as it were. Hopefully, I’ll have another onsite report in 2025.