CES just wrapped up its 50th anniversary event. While the show is geared towards consumer technology, I think we can find some harbingers for future business applications. Although I did not attend, after reviewing the many great articles covering the event, here are some of my thoughts.
Virtual Personal Assistants
Voice control has not just come of age, it is evolving into virtual personal assistants. My first experience with voice recognition was over 15 years ago with a program called DragonSpeak. I had my right arm in a sling from an accident and was unable to type. The program required training before it would work properly. I had to read scripts into my computer’s microphone over and over to “teach” the program to understand my voice. By the time the program was able to do an acceptable job of transcribing my dictation, my injuries had healed and I was able to type again.
We’ve come a long way since that time. Siri and Alexa are part of our daily lives. However, this technology has not entered the business world to any great extent. We use it to check the weather, or to get a quick definition of a word, but we don’t use it in the meeting room. I believe voice is now sophisticated enough to control our meeting room systems. Some of this will be relatively simple, asking the room to connect a call, or to bring up a spreadsheet on the big screen.
Things will get more interesting as virtual personal assistants get more and more intelligent. Star Trek fans know what I am talking about. In that series, the characters talk to the ship’s computer as if it was a person. It doesn’t just respond to basic commands, it understands what is being said as if it was a person. It is one thing to ask your virtual assistant what time your development meeting is set for. On the other hand, it is quite another thing to ask it what the percentage chance is of successfully finishing the project on time. Things are going to get very interesting, and very cool, in the next few years.
The Evolution of PTZ
Camera makers are continuing to work on the PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) problem. The problem is that PTZ is essential for a quality video experience, but almost no one uses it correctly. It is essential because people must be properly framed by the video in order for remote participants to see them clearly and naturally. Unfortunately, the controls of PTZ cameras are often unintuitive and complicated. People want to just start a video call and have a good view of the people on the other end, they don’t want to fiddle with a remote to make this happen. There are several approaches concurrently being pursued (and some were on display at CES) to address this issue and it is too early to pick a winner. However, they all share one thing in common, taking the job of controlling PTZ away from the user and handling it (in one way or another) automatically.
Plain old vanilla reality isn’t enough anymore. We need virtual and/or augmented reality. While the idea of a meeting room full of people wearing headsets still doesn’t sit right with me, I have to admit the business applications are extremely compelling. As this technology becomes more affordable, powerful, and flexible, my objections appear weaker and weaker. It may not be a replacement for videoconferencing, but if you want to look at 3D models, or tour a building before it is constructed, it’s hard to beat VR/AR.
Swappable Digital Brains
More and more “things” need to be smart and connected, in order for the internet of things to grow. This means we need smaller and smaller computers to embed in, or attach to, our things. At CES, Intel demoed its new Compute Card, which is the size of a credit card and has a 7th Gen Intel Core vPro processor. One cool benefit of this concept is that it makes smart devices easily upgradeable. If one of these is powering your IoT refrigerator, and you decide you want your fridge to be a little smarter, you just swap the old Compute Card with a newer/smarter one. As we IoT enable our business appliances (whether it be our meeting room systems or our coffee machines) we will want to be sure they are easily upgradable. The Intel Compute Card could be the key to opening up our IoT future.