Smart homes, smart cars: What we’re watching at CES 2017 –

Consumer technology used to mean TVs, computers, cameras, and phones, with new models arriving each year. But that definition no longer feels apt — a relic of a time when technology was something you merely bought, instead of an interface to an increasingly connected world.

Now technology is everywhere, found in washing machines, watches, and self-driving cars.

As the definition of consumer technology has evolved, so too has CES, the annual consumer electronics show, now marking its 50th year.

The Consumer Technology Association’s event still plays host to the latest (though not always greatest) gadgets. But products that were once the show’s bread and butter — those TVs, computers, cameras, and phones — are less important than they once were.

Arguably, that’s a good thing, and a glimpse of where technology in the coming years may have the biggest impact in our day-to-day lives.

The show officially starts on Thursday, but events are happening throughout the week. Here are three things we’re looking forward to most. 

How computers see the world

The unsung heroes of the technology industry are the chips and sensors that make some of your favourite pieces of technology work. Think: the tiny optical heart rate monitor in your activity tracker that collects data while you’re on a run, the array of microphones that help a dedicated personal assistant hear your voice from across the room, or the rapidly spinning lasers that help self-driving cars see the world. 

The manufacturers of these chips aren’t hawking finished products, but offering possibilities, and that’s always the most interesting part — glimpses of potential products and features that are still months if not years away.

Car companies become tech companies

Over the last few years, car companies have been trying to act more like tech companies, and vice versa. It’s all thanks to the fast-approaching future of the self-driving car. And it means that a large swath of CES is now dedicated to talk of artificial intelligence, computer vision, personal assistants and in-car connectivity.

Pretty much every big car manufacturer will be at the show this year: Mercedes, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and more. But more traditional tech companies will be there too — including the Chinese technology company Baidu, computer chip makers Intel, IBM, and NVIDIA; and even BlackBerry, which recently announced a new research hub for self-driving cars.

While everyone is racing to solve the same overarching problem — how to make intelligent vehicles that can safely, autonomously navigate the world as humans do —  the fun part will be learning how everyone plans to get there, and how far their efforts have brought them so far. 

Securing the smart home

In recent years, we’ve seen a steady increase in connected devices, from internet-connected light switches and washing machines you can control from your phone, to always-listening personal assistants that can handle basic questions and tasks when asked.

Wearables are practically a whole category of their own. And practically in lockstep, there have been warnings from computer experts to more carefully consider the security implications of such an increasingly connected world.

In October, attackers took control of tens of thousands of insecure, internet-connected cameras, routers, and digital video recorders (DVRs). The collection of hacked devices, known as the Mirai botnet, was used to launch a series of denial of service attacks, making it difficult to access popular websites such as Netflix, Spotify and Twitter for a brief period of time.

The following month, a group of researchers showed how easy it was to spread a virus between internet connected lightbulbs, which could be used in a Mirai-like attack.

Is this the year these companies finally take privacy and security of their products more seriously? And what are they doing about it? That’s the question that may be on the minds of every manufacturer of smart devices at this year’s CES (and you can bet we’ll ask).


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