/ Technology

CES 2017: Has technology reached ‘peak smart’?

Smart fridge

How did you sleep last night? Did you give your pearly whites the best possible clean this morning? Did you splash a drop of milk into your morning brew without realising it had turned? And will you remember to pick up some more from the shops later today?

From wi-fi-connected pillows and beds designed to adjust your position while you’re sleeping to toothbrushes with artificial intelligence, at CES 2017 in Las Vegas – the biggest consumer tech show in the world – it seemed that everything was prefixed by the same five-letter word: ‘smart’. But is it all too much?

Innovative or inane inventions?

From the genius to the completely bizarre, it’s difficult to know which ideas will make the leap from the show floor into our everyday lives. And it would be easy to be disparaging of most – the cynical side of me certainly wants to be.

Take GeniCan – said to be the first ever smart rubbish bin, which scans your rubbish as you throw it away and adds it to a shopping list. Years from now will you really be relying on it to help you remember which things you’ve run out of so you don’t forget to buy them when you’re at the shops?

Or Kerastase – the first smart hairbrush that can supposedly improve your hair health. Will there come a time when we’ll ask ourselves how we ever lived without it?

Admittedly, these are some of the more out-there ideas we’ve seen at the show this year, with a far less obvious consumer need for these sorts of products. And, in my opinion, it’s likely they’ll fall into obscurity over time and be remembered like a bad dream.

But some of the biggest advances in consumer technology over the past half century have debuted at this show, which is now celebrating its 50th year.

Take smart thermostats, for example. While the company Nest was still in its infancy in 2012, it exhibited its first product here in Las Vegas.

It’s now become a multi-billion-dollar company, bought out by Google in 2014, with smart thermostats from a host of companies helping people save money through more energy-efficient heating of their homes.

So who knows whether GeniCan or Kerastase will emulate the smart thermostat’s success.

Voice-control tech

Also on display was a plethora of products that show the proliferation of voice-control technology, with many incorporating Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant technology first seen in the Echo.

LG and Lenovo have both launched Echo rivals and LG has even incorporated Alexa into its 2017 flagship smart fridge, the Smart InstaView (which also has a touchscreen that can warn when products are near their expiration date).

For disabled people or the elderly, voice control has the potential to revolutionise their lives, granting them a newfound independence. Plus, with a new generation growing up around voice control, as the technology continues to improve, it’s likely to become something we expect rather than a novelty.

But the same concerns arise time and time again when it comes to smart products. With more products out there collecting our data, companies know more about us than ever before. Privacy is something many worry about and the need to aware of our own digital footprints will become of utmost importance.

So, do you think we’ve reached peak smart? Or is there anything you think should be smarter?


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The CES has been notable in past years for creating ideas that became essential. Vast fortunes have been built in that way, and so creative individuals have never been more inspired to get creative.

However, new ideas tend to go in one of two directions: the ‘That’s a great idea!’ pile or the ‘Okay; what’s that for again?’ heap. I suspect it’s never been any different, and the image of Victor Borge with his infamous telephone call by Sir Walter Raleigh to the Queen attempting to explain what a potato was comes to mind.

But advanced as the home is becoming, the holy grails of Smart devices remain tantalisingly out of reach. The autonomous robot, the stuff of SciFi and Asimov, will almost certainly sell in billions if an affordable and stable device ever comes to market. VR might well be supplanted by ER – Enhanced Reality – which, if a way could be found of projecting directly onto retinas, could be another multi-trillion market. True holographic TV – first mooted in the late 1950s – remains as far away as ever, with the issues surrounding the reproduction of stable, moving fully-formed three dimensional imagery being way beyond out current technology.

But with all the seemingly magical advances in iThings (generic, not Apple) come the associated issues of privacy and safety. All iThings communicate with the outside world and all iThings send back information to that world. Although you might not think it matters, sadly the ne’re do wells working for some companies will seize on the golden opportunities offered by threatening to create havoc unless paid not to do so.

The ransomware virus, which currently affects only data, could assume a far more menacing visage, it it were to tell your iFridge to ignore poultry going off, or even contaminate the milk. If we move towards total reliance on this sort of technology, how long before we stop checking for possible smells and other signs of danger?

A future for we all have to remain on guard .

CES 2017? I thought Which? Conversation had been requested by a recent contributor to spell out abbreviations on first appearance. The initials “CES” stand for “Consumer Electronics Show” which sounds dreadfully old-fashioned nowadays so it’s not surprising that it’s been air-brushed out to an unpronounceable acronym. However, one might have expected a leading consumer representative organisation to try to hold onto the name for a moment at least.

All fears of outside interference are fully justified and these are eloquently described in the posts above. For me, the test of a good automation is whether I am happy with the way I do things at present… if it ain’t broke… or whether I can see a genuine improvement in efficiency, labour saving or enjoyment by accessing the new technology. To an extent, this has to be invented and presented to us to give an opportunity to decide on its merits and then market forces take over. Sitting here at the moment I’m hard pressed to think of much that I want to change. I certainly don’t want everything connected up. Life is generally compartmentalised -work -shopping – domestic chores – leisure activities etc and I see no reason to combine any of these using smart devices. Being in control of what happens is important to me and, currently, if I want reminding I’ll write it down somewhere and leave it in an obvious place. I’ll make a decision whether to replace an item and I’ll soon know if I forget. All my domestic appliances work well and separately. Why should they need to talk to each other? There is a dubious advantage in letting the phone control heating and lighting and security from afar, especially if someone else can do the same by a hack or two, and I can’t think of many times when I might find this of much use. Keep things simple and there’s less to go wrong. I’m not quite on the fence but more this side of it than that at present.

As I have commented many times before, the only thing we need on the fridge is the day’s date or a small calendar. I think we can manage the rest from there so long as we have our faculties.

As for the GeniCan [the intelligent pedal bin], what I want is one that opens the lid as I approach it and closes it with a “thank you”. How can it tell whether we need a replacement for a discarded item or are throwing it away because we don’t like it and certainly won’t buy it again? In any case, the packaging goes in the recycling bin not the rubbish bin, so if the GeniCan scans the old light bulbs, eggshells, broken shoelaces, dolls eyes, fly-paper, buttons, and bows the shopping list is going to read like something out of the Sound of Music. Breaks the ice in Sainsbury’s I suppose.

Recent messages to enrich and extend our lives are to keep the brain active; I doubt we have reached ‘peak smart’ yet but I think we should be a bit wary of it. Evolution can work both ways.

According to Which? Pedal Bin magazine:

“All the bins in smart homes have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done.”

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I don’t think Douglas Adams was at CES 2017. 🙁

“I don’t think Douglas Adams was at CES 2017.”

Sadly true. As an early commentator on the very first digital watches (those that required two handed use) he would have had a field day.

He did, of course, predict the ultimate demise of unduly materialistic societies and the formation of distinctive archaeological remains from them, i.e. “the shoe event horizon”.

Given his views on cybernetic doors and drinks machines, I bet he would have enjoyed making fun of IoT devices and their advocates.

In his absence, we will have to make the fun for him. Our unduly materialistic society is still under development, but the marketing team is working on it.

Smart tech will go on and on as long as there are lazy people and those with more money than sense to buy it The companies will keep coming up with ideas to take some peoples ,money from them even if the things they try to sell are not needed at all and probably never get used maybe just once

John: our new IKEA kitchen has a bin drawer below the sink that opens with just a nudge of the knee. I do have a motion sensor which I could fit but that could cause issues if it did it all the time.

That sounds handy, Ian, – kneely perfect in fact. Does it close itself after ten seconds or is manual effort required? I hope it plays “My Ol’ Man’s a Dustman” as it performs its magic tricks.

[PS : Don’t tell Alfa or she’ll want one in her new kitchen.]

🙂 I was hoping it would say something on the lines of ‘Whaddyou think of the show so far? Rubbish!” but sadly, no. It has assisted closing – a gentle nudge with the knee again and it closes. It’s actually an example of extremely useful technology, since I always worried about disposing of chicken wrappers without touching cupboard handles. That’s all now a thing of the past as I simply nudge the drawer, which shoots out, effectively knee-capping me, then allows the contaminated chicken giblets to land on whichever part of my anatomy is in the requisite spot as I crumple to the floor, muttering about Swedish innovation.

No, seriously – its a pretty neat idea and one that does allow disposal of nasties without extra contamination. Our tap has bars and the soap is dispensed electronically, so we keep possible food poisoning down to when we need it – usually if Great Aunt Griselda threatens to visit. Last time she came we had the mice throwing themselves on the traps…

I heard that 🙂


I am reading so much about the smartification of so many areas in our lives and it might give some people the impression they can no longer do without it – but how much serious thought has been given to what all this connecting up could do to our data privacy? These connections can be captured, harvested or even hacked – do we really need to have all this data available to be scrutinised by unknown parties for commercial or even criminal purposes, however convenient the smart functions might be?

Another side of the smart appliances recording what we buy, eat and what we do, is the assumption supplying this information is good.

” “Algorithms are sharing information so quickly that consumers are not aware of the competition,” says Mr Stucke. “Two gas stations that are across the street from each other are already familiar with this.”
This episode suggests that the availability of perfect information, a hallmark of free market theory, might harm rather than empower consumers. If the concern is borne out, a central assumption of the digital economy — that technology lowers prices and expands choices — could be upended.”

A well thought out article which bears reading as it illustrates the manipulation that has and will take place by virtue of AI playing with data. I wish that Which? would actually ask for permission to re-print it as it affects all consumers so why not tell our subscribers.

I am interested by technological development but I think I will let others do the initial testing and decide later whether to spend my money. Unfortunately, most innovations are produced primarily to make money and everything else is secondary. It would be interesting to re-engineer the GeniCan to promote effective recycling rather than simply ordering from supermarkets. The novelty might just help people recycle more of their waste. Once you are in the habit of recycling, you are likely to continue.

I am surprised by the popularity of heating systems that can be controlled by mobile phone. I turn down my heating when I go out and turn on again when I get home. In my previous home I did install a fairly complex programmer but the one thing it would not cope with is that I’m not a creature of habit, so I would either waste gas heating an empty home or arrive before the heating came on. I decided that it was easier just to turn on the heating when I got home and rely on the ability of my body to cope for the relatively short period needed for the radiators to do their job. I have a very similar programmer in my new home and have never bothered to set it since I moved in, the best part of a year ago.

I do not need a fridge that monitors the milk supply. I use a maximum and minimum thermometer to monitor the temperature of the fridge and set it as cool as possible without freezing the contents. If I do run out, there will be a small bottle in the freezer. If that has been used then it’s a trip to the village shop or the carton of UHT milk kept for when I get back from holiday.

I wonder how much new technology is discarded once the novelty wears off or it does not live up to expectations.

Most of us have got pretty good NI – natural intelligence – useful to do many of the jobs we need to accomplish. Perhaps we could have an exhibition to demonstrate just how versatile and useful that can be.

I agree, Malcolm. There is no doubt that modern technology can help give us the time to practise our skills and share them with others, but often that time is spent sitting in front of the TV or the computer. 🙁 I had better go and do something useful.

I’ve finally finished spreading 4 tons of cow manure and pruning the raspberries (a bit early) so exchanging brawn for brain for a few minutes. 🙂

I think I would prefer a little cream on my raspberries.

Hmmmm… Dung flavoured Mivvi, perhaps?

Modern technology is fine when it works but it does cause people to become dependent upon it once established, which leads to frustration and annoyance when it breaks down, and even more so if or when a third party is involved. It can often take hours or sometimes days to repair and/or become connected again in some cases, with computer users having to undergo all the additional but necessary security checks to establish identification

What I find more worrying is where technology will lead to in the future. Scientists are already showing concerns about the amount of orbital debris that is currently encircling 220 miles above the Earth and increasing, at 8km a second. They predict its only a matter of time before a piece of space junk travelling at 17,000 mph will hit the orbiting satellites that we all have come to depend upon. Ways to break up the larger pieces of junk are in the pipeline but this will just produce smaller and even more lethal debris which, travelling at such speeds can cause catastrophic damage when it collides with any object in its path.

With all navigation systems and weather forecasts now reliant upon these orbital satellites it’s quite a worrying scenario. Our tendency to pollute has now extended into the space above as well as below this beautiful planet we are privileged to inhabit.

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For a LASER to take out orbital vehicles it would need two things: immense power and a nice clear day. Most of the tine their power is attenuated by clouds, smog and all sort of other atmospheric issues. Far cheaper and easier are the ground-based anti-sat missile systems. There are currently no feasible ground to space LASER systems.

There are, however, much nastier variants of LASER weapons which cause temporary blindness and use infra red, so you don’t even know you’ve been targeted. Seven Iraq veterans suffered eye damage from hand-held LASERs used by the US military.

On the orbital debris front, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds since a lot of the debris orbits in the same direction, so relative velocities are not as dangerous as you might think. However, it’s fair to say there’s a decent amount of garbage in orbit and even tiny pieces can penetrate shielding on the ISS.

The bigger threat comes for solar storms which can eliminate satellite function completely in seconds.

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No, that wasn’t a ground-to-space LASER, Duncan.

There are actually two things there: destroying satellites and destroying drones. All the major powers have LASER cannons and can destroy incoming drones and they’re attempting to ensure they can do the same with Exocet-type missiles. That’s proving tricky, in fact, because of the high rate of atmospheric attenuation, which reduces the LASER to a mild warmth over any sort of significant distance.

The Satellite LASER test is a different beast. None of the three tests the Chinese did involved LASER destruction from the ground. In each case they launched a missile and, although the precise method they used to destroy their satellite hasn’t been determined, it’s thought to be a kinetic kill warhead, similar to what the US and Russia possess.

In fact, space offers the perfect environment for a LASER weapon, since there’d be little to no attenuation, unlike Earth’s atmosphere. So you can sleep easy regarding LASERs, but there are equally as efficient missile systems that can do far more harm.

I bet by now they’ve got “a laser capable of emitting a beam of pure anti-matter” 😉

🙂 I believe the current interest is in finding out whether anti-matter falls upwards. Gravity’s an odd force, because it only operates one way. Most other forces operate both ways – attraction and repulsion,. but there are several groups interested in finding the fabled ‘anti-gravity’.

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Lasers for target ranging or target designation are somewhat more feasible than lasers for target destruction.

And are being deployed currently in both sniper weapons and guided missile systems. However, LASER ranging is very different to using a LASER as a weapon, Duncan; the main problem about getting a workable LASER weapon into orbit is the sheer mass of the thing.

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I don’t think people are “propagandized ” at all, Duncan. Many people follow trends in Physics and offensive technology rather keenly, but if I might remind you how this started: you stated “high power lasers have been constructed by China/USA /Russia to shoot down opposing military satellites” and the phrasing you used (“shoot down”) implied that these were ground-based LASER systems, which simply don’t exist or are utterly infeasible at the moment.

Now, all the major powers have invested heavily in researching weaponised LASERs, and they’re all roughly at the same point: they work best for targeting kinetic energy weapons but not as the ‘death ray’, much beloved of ’50s SciFi. A 1w LASER is quite powerful: but you need to understand how LASER power is arrived at. A 40w LASER can be bought on eBay, and at its best it can burst a table tennis ball. What you’re talking is 40kw or above to do any serious damage. And then it doesn’t work through atmosphere.

Now, the Germans have demonstrated a 40kw LASER, and they argue that’s still insufficient for taking out airborne targets, such as Drones or Fighter planes, so there’s a long way to go.

I have no doubts that the military of all countries will continue developing bigger and better ways of wiping out humans and their technology; they always have. But they’re not there, yet, and they’re nowhere near building “high power lasers… to shoot down opposing military satellites”

Finally, Duncan, talking about “secret” technology makes people wonder how secret it can be, if you know all about it.

Let’s not forget the lasers now being used in the field of medicine and eye surgery in particular.

It’s a sad state of affairs when humans still find it necessary in the 21st century to develop technological weapons to defend themselves against each other. The ever increasing threat of terrorism should be enough to encourage the richest countries to unite and work together to combat the evil indoctrination of young teenagers whose brains are still in a developmental stage.

We now have world leaders engaging in petty squabbles about intelligence claims that serve little purpose other than satisfy each other’s inflated egos while terrorists are busy planning their next assault on their innocent victims. A modern day version of Nero fiddling whilst Rome burnt I guess.

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Hmmm…the ZUMWALT -DDG-1000 class destroyer doesn’t actually host a tactical LASER weapon, Duncan; it does host the latest incarnation of the much discussed Railgun which does use LASER targeting – as do most missile systems. The Railgun, BTW, isn’t a “shock-horror” secret weapon, either; it was originally proposed by Jules Verne, so hardly recent, even. And its range is around 80 miles, not 125 and it travels – optimally – at around Mach 6, not 7.5.

But no; I don’t agree that we have to become the aggressor first. This is the ugly side of technology. I suspect some in the Military are a little too concerned with job creation, frankly.

Popular Mechanics (are they a reputable source?) “reports” on this http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a21174/navy-electromagnetic-railgun/ . It needs a huge amount of power to work and that gives a very limited use – at present. One advantage claimed is that explosive propellants are not required on board ship (assuming no conventional armaments are carries which seems unlikely).

Laser weapons are described for example in Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_Weapon_System. Useful for dazzling, disabling electronics and motors, exploding warheads on incoming threats for example. Energy saving devices compared to other defences – must be better for the environment. 🙂


I suppose the reason that little of this subject gets exposed in the mass media is because for a huge percentage of the population it is a total turn-off.

Railgun research is far from secret. Regular conferences are held on the technology in the USA, but a few years ago their conference was held in China. (I believe it has also been hosted in Scotland on at least one occasion, back when the UK was a major player in the field.)

I think that tells me that both sides are keen to research this technology but the publication of much open literature shows that the railgun is far from being a useful weapon.

Given the amount of pollution continually appearing on our TV screens in Beijing and other large cities in China, I doubt whether a laser beam would be wholly effective.

Introducing more missiles into space can only exacerbate an already existing pollution problem, so my question is, in which direction is the technological evolution heading? Unconscious and inconsidered short term gain can lead to long term problems and set backs.

When you mentioned the pollution continually appearing on our TV screens, Beryl, I realised you meant the programmes and have to agree with you. I have a smart filter who sits next to me on the sofa and instantly reacts to the slightest evidence of anything covered in smut, filth, or dirt, any over-exposure, impurity or general nastiness, and anything that might contaminate the mind. I just hope this sensitivity isn’t catching.

You need to be more acutely aware of potential contamination John in order to activate your fight or flight responses 🙂

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As soon as a film or programme is advertised as containing sex, violence or language that can offend we usually turn it off. If “entertainment” can only use this to hold attention then I’d do without it. Problem is so many films and programmes do; I cannot accept that exposing people, particularly the young, to gratuitous violence, including video games, does not desensitise some of them or, even worse, “inspire” them.

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Interesting view, Malcolm. I’m only asking, but hw do you apply your criteria? When you say you refuse to watch anything that might contain ” sex, violence or language that can offend “ there are two potential issues: firstly, what can ‘offend’ one person might not for many others. By refusing to watch anything with that warning on you might be depriving yourself of some interesting material.

Secondly, however, how would you class these, all of which contain “sex, violence and language that can offend”: Macbeth, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, most operas, many Ballets and Lord of the Rings, The Bible… I could go on, but I think you get my point. The Arts are about discovery, imagination, mirrors to society and so much more.

On the point about desensitisation, that’s a really tricky one. There’s a wealth of research on it, with no clear findings at all.

I said “usually” not “refuse” Ian. And my remarks were framed in the light of more modern films, video games, whose focus seems to be on what I referred to, gratuitous and regular.
I am no prude and do not object at all to the sex and violence we see in normal life being used in a way where it is needed to illustrate a story. Just my personal view – I’m not imposing it on anyone.

A complex subject but to simplify, there are individuals who are by nature under stimulated and lead unfulfilled lives who are more likely to receive a certain buzz, a kind of negative shock therapy if you like, who enjoy as opposed to endure, the kind of “entertainment” described above. If you couple that with a bad past experience or environment, you may already be in a way desensitised and be able to enjoy the sort of stuff handed out on the media and which may be classified as ‘normal’ to some.

Add to all of that a creative mind then you have a recipe for the kind of stuff which is sometimes disguised as the creative art we are exposed to on our TV sets and in the cinema. Even real life enactments, as we are all too aware, can be over sensationalised in order to attract box office attention. If you are able to make money from it and get away with it, what’s to stop you dishing it out?

Most of this unwelcome and somewhat undesirable stuff is mind created based on personal experience. On the other hand, I would question the need for anyone to shy away from the reality of some of the shocking events we see on the news that are happening in the real world today. Modern technology now enables us to witness events occurring minute by minute in all parts of the world. Could this be considered a step too far or a ‘peak smart’? Maybe for some.

Beryl – I wouldn’t want to become so sensitive that I turned into a pessimist.

[Edit : This comment was in response to your 11 January post preceding the one above (a threading detail!)]

I have no doubt John, as a regular contributor to the Convo, you are very capable of finding a right balance to suit 🙂

I take your point, Malcolm; sorry to have mis-quoted your initial post – mea culpa. I wondered if you were only thinking of current TV ‘guidelines’ and I do sympathise broadly when you noted – in the current Gardening topic – that you dislike regulations apparently framed for those with low intellect.

As an aside I object to any form of censorship by those who feel they know far better than I what’s good for me. Probably stems from childhood, working up chimneys…

It is worrying that most of this smart tech has been designed by dumb people who have set no passwords on things, or the same password on millions of things.

You light bulbs calling premium rate numbers, your toaster sending spam emails and your fridge hosting faked copies of bank websites and harvesting unsuspecting customer’s personal information?

Already happening.

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I have little time for CES because it’s a bit over the top, but have little doubt that many of the products that are part of our daily lives first saw the light of day there.

So, what has the CES ever done for us?

The internet of things at the moment looks like a hackers paradise. The hackers according to sources like BestVPN have seen the security vulnerability of these devices as a way of creating huge botnets which have already lead to some famous DDOS attacks in 2016. As this trend for everything from kettles to heating controls being connected to the net increases, it is predicted that the DDOS attacks we saw in 2016 are set to increase dramatically. So just as we become ever more dependant on the net, we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction with the possibility of internet blackouts for protracted amounts of time. Attacks on Dyn, one of the DNS providers and IANA the organisation that oversees the allocation of IP addresses show the way the hackers are thinking.
Is this convenience for our overweight unexercised population really an appropriate development? Differently abled people could see huge benefits from this tech, but for most of us it is just a convenience whose price may in the end extend way beyond the simple price tag in the online store.

Following on from this topic, like cats and dogs, microchipping is now being introduced into humans. Identifying integrated circuit devices (RFID’s) are being implanted into humans.

en.wikipedia.org. – Microchip Implant (human)

Is this a step too ‘peak smart’?