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As the tech industry faces an identity crisis, CES needs to evolve

Victor Barreiro Jr.
As the tech industry faces an identity crisis, CES needs to evolve
Technology is meant to showcase how scientific advancements can make a positive impact. It needs to help solve bigger problems than the question of how to fit more pixels on a screen.


The 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2020) touts itself as “the world’s gathering place for all those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies.” It aims to focus on creating innovations, on building better iterations of consumer tech, and providing solutions for problems people might have in their day-to-day.

It’s a neat consumer-centric event which provides plenty of news and products for the industry to talk about or salivate over. That said, I wish CES would do more. 

It could be one of those powerhouse events where people could show technology that makes an impact in solving large-scale problems that affect everyone, but it doesn’t make that leap because of its business-focused mindset.

TECH FOR THE ENVIRONMENT? A woodchip mill burnt by bushfires is seen as smoke rises in Eden in Australia's New South Wales state on January 6, 2020.Photo by Saeed Khan/AFP

A lack of tech around sustainability solutions

CES 2020 is said to be showcasing about 700,000 products. The event usually has an exhaustive page which lists what products are going to be shown.

This year is no different and you can check out the full list of products on this page.The products have been categorized under specific banners, such as automotive, blockchain, entertainment, startups, and smart devices for cities and the home.

The category on sustainable solutions appears to be quite small, however.

Of the 6 offerings under the “Sustainability” category, two are more practical applications – such as a self-heating lunchbox and a smart home air quality monitor/alert system – or may be miscategorized, such as an app that lets people exchange contact information easily.

The other 3 seem to be more genuine examples of sustainability solutions. 

HG Robotics has its TigerDrone, which helps survey and map agricultural areas. There is also Skoon Cloud, which is essentially a marketplace for selling and buying clean energy. Meanwhile, Texenergy appears to have a host of products for people living off the grid, such as crank-powered batteries, transport-friendly consumer solar panels, and the Infinite Air – a portable wind turbine which generates power. 

SMART HOME DEVICES. Vivint's line of smart home service devices is displayed at CES 2017 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center on January 5, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP

Smart homes and cities and the culture of surveillance tech

In a world where data breaches are more common and state-sponsored surveillance is growing, the idea of a smart home or of surveillance solutions for smart cities leaves a bad taste.

While the accessibility behind some smart home devices is certainly worthwhile, such as smart locks or home automation, the benefits should be more closely weighed against the risks of virtual intrusions into one’s home.

2019 saw reports of smart home devices getting hacked, such as smart locks. There’s also the tale of a Google Nest-enabled home being accessed through the home’s wireless internet systems which might chill you.

Moreover, the notion of a benevolent smart city seems naive these days. China’s use of facial recognition and surveillance tech in its major cities, as well as wireless payments and a social credit system, makes the idea of a smart city a harder sell for me given their human rights record as regards Uighur Muslim. (READ: China facial recognition case puts Big Brother on trial)

IVANKA TRUMP. Senior Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump arrives for a signing ceremony on S.1790, the "National Defense Authorization Act for FY2020" at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland on December 20, 2019. File photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP

The wrong person to represent tech

An invitation extended to Ivanka Trump to speak at CES 2020 seems like a misstep as well.

While diversity is an issue when it comes to representation of various social spaces in the tech sphere, Ivanka Trump seems a bad fit to discuss technology and the workplace.

Brianna Wu, a 2020 Candidate for US House of Representatives in Massachusetts’ 8th District and video game developer, explained how the situation did not serve tech diversity well in a series of tweets.

She explained,  “Beyond the politics of the Trump administration – Ivanka is not a woman in tech. She’s not a CEO. She has no background. It’s a lazy attempt to emulate diversity – but like all emulation it’s not quite the real thing. 

“There are thousands of qualified women working at major companies that could deliver a keynote. There are thousands of women engineering the products at CES that could deliver a keynote. There are dozens of important women journalists that could deliver a keynote.

“Ivanka is not one of us.”

“Frankly, she would not be welcomed in women in tech circles because her politics harm everything we fight against in our careers,” Wu finished. 

Answering the big problems of the world

Technology, as a branch of applied science, is meant to showcase how scientific advancements can make a positive impact for people. It needs to help solve bigger problems than the question of how to fit more pixels on a screen.

We need to showcase more technology that helps protect the environment and provide sustainability for the coming generations to enjoy the privileges techies have now. 

We should have better discussions and more thorough oversight over technology that can pose threats to personal security, privacy, and safety.

We also need to promote social equity in technology, so that more people have better chances at being successful. Tech can do that by allowing marginalized voices to speak more readily at events like CES 2020. 

CES 2020 may be successful in drumming up business but it can, I still hope, take that leap forward into new territory in the future. –

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.