As I fly back to Austin after attending my third Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, I am struck by what it all means for society. A recent quote by my mentor Bob Metcalfe sums up CES this year perfectly: “More important than changing lives is improving them.” After all, I think that is the greatest benefit of science and innovation; it’s more than social networks, instant messaging, and Angry Birds. It’s about improving our lives in ways we never imagined.
CES brings together the brightest minds in innovation, collectively pushing the envelope and asking: “Why does it have to be this way? Let’s make it better”—whatever “it” happens to be. I was like a kid in a candy store exploring all of the new innovations on display.
I’ll admit, I am a mobility/urban planning/social equity nerd. I tend to look at everything in terms of how it improves our opportunities for upward mobility. Not just from a ground transportation focus that is RideScout, but from a larger societal standpoint that is our driving purpose—to improve lives through greater opportunities for upward mobility.
That is why this year’s CES was a turning point for me personally. Rather than just looking at ways to solve problems for people with respect to their music, phones, or TVs, there were overarching themes that spoke of technology’s ever-growing role in society. Four themes in particular really stood out for me.
- Safety. It’s estimated almost a million people die every year in vehicle fatalities all over the world, and the majority of these accidents could have been avoided. I saw two things at CES that give me great hope for the future. A company based in Israel called Mobileye has developed sensors for large vehicles (which notoriously have large blind spots) to let them know when they are in danger of a collision with pedestrians and bicyclists. Simple in concept, yet genius in practice and it will undoubtedly save many lives. In addition to Mobileye, it seems that every auto manufacturer in the world is talking about autonomous driving. A common goal of many in the industry is to remove the most dangerous element from the car today—the human driver. It might take a while for society to become fully comfortable with this, but letting a car drive you is going to be much safer in all conditions because it removes human error.
- City Planning. Though our cities date back to 2,900 BC, their layout and design has not really changed much until the last 100 years. In other words, in only the last 2 percent of time in the history of cities have we made incredible changes to them that impact quality of life, safety, crime, congestion and upward mobility (see Robert Putnam’s book “Our Kids” for more of what I mean). At CES, I saw new technologies that allow us to understand the impact of city development before we pitch our first shovel of dirt or tear down a neighborhood to make way for a road expansion. The urban planning technologies from HERE were among my favorite. It was also refreshing to see so many U.S. government officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to the Transportation Secretary, Secretary Anthony Foxx, discuss the intersection of innovation and government. After all, with so many people living in cities, we have to make sure the public and private sector are talking more effectively to adjust to new technologies.
- Homes and Personal Autos. For most people, a home and a car are the two most expensive investments they’ll make in their lives. At CES, companies presented how these two things have gotten smarter and are literally talking to their owners—and each other. Why can’t your car let your house know you’re getting close and restore the heating or cooling to a comfortable level? Why not be able to project my home security cameras to my car’s dashboard, in case I come in late to give me a quick glance of my surroundings? The CEO of Bosch talked about their technologies that will enable this more connected world. Not just changing lives, but improving them. GM unveiled the Bolt Electric Vehicle that will allow you to compete with other Bolt owners to see who can be the most environmentally responsible in a community. Genius. Samsung unveiled a refrigerator that has a camera on the outside door to allow you to see inside without opening it. How sweet is that?
- Women in Technology. Sadly, there just aren’t enough women working in technology yet, which means we aren’t yet operating at our full potential. I have a quote that I’ve repeated over the years: “People will be what they can see.” Industries across the globe need more women in CEO positions to serve as inspiration and examples for young women everywhere that the glass ceiling is steadily shattering. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, and Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, both gave keynote speeches at CES. It’s critical that we have more women in key leadership roles helping to innovate in city planning, transportation, and technology so that we create systems that work for a broader portion of the population. I read somewhere that the list of S&P 1500 CEOs have more men named “John” than the total number of women on the list. While there has been improvement, we can do better. At CES, I was delighted to see more women attending this year. I noticed more diversity in all attendees and heard more languages and dialects than I have in the past; we have become more and more globalized.
CES is a massive conference and I have to give kudos to Las Vegas for evolving into a city that is accommodating more options for mobility such as Uber and Lyft. When I traveled to Las Vegas last year, I was crushed with expensive taxis that were sometimes hard to find. I would ask, Why does it have to be this way? This year, it didn’t. I’m already looking forward to 2017.
Joseph Kopser is the CEO and Co-Founder of RideScout, a mobile transportation app that’s in over 69 cities in the U.S. and Canada and earned the 2014 U.S. DOT Data Innovation Award as well as recognition as a White House Champion of Change as a Veteran in Clean Energy. Joseph served in the Army for 20 years. He is a graduate of West Point with a BS in Aerospace Engineering and also received a Masters from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2002.
Image via Lili Popper/Unsplash (PD)