Do we look at CES as a vision of the future, or do we look at it with a mixture of laughter and astonishment at how technology companies can find very complicated ways of doing simple things?
What is notable about predictions of the future is that they tend to be influenced much more by science fiction than science. While futurologists are OK at the broad strokes, it is the details they get wrong. For a century it was predicted in the future all telephones would have pictures as well as sound; what no one saw coming was texting. While many imagined there would be some sort of networked screens in our homes, no one really foresaw YouTube or how much of it would be taken up by videos of funny cats. Many hoped computers would provide a vast amount of encyclopaedic knowledge in every home, few imagined how much of that information would be crazy, misleading or simply fake.
The Connected Home – out of the frying pan…
One theme that emerges from a century of predictions is that of the fully automated home – what we now tend to call the connected home. This is how the 50s saw the future – as one film of the time put it, ‘a press button dream coming true for Mrs Housewife’.
What is remarkable from these films (apart from the unquestioned gender stereotypes) is how unappealing the kitchens seem set against our current desires for food as far away from technology as possible. 21st century food turned out not be based on microwaves and freeze drying but the desire for simple ‘authentic’ food - Tuscan peasant cuisine, artisan bakeries and local organic produce.
But whether we want it or not, the automated/connected home was certainly a major theme at CES 2017 – everything that can be (and many things that shouldn’t be) was connected to an app. We had connected hair brushes that listen to you hair as it’s brushed so it can tell you what you are doing wrong, connected shoes, cat feeders and cat litter trays, teapots, fridge cameras, beds, pillows, showers, water bottles, mugs, tooth brushes, mirrors, toasters and, if all that is getting too much, WiFi proof underpants that protect you from the ‘radiation’ everything else in your home is emitting. There is even a robot dedicated to folding your clothes.
So many of these devices seemed aimed to make a simple and enjoyable task problematic – solutions looking desperately for a problem - that choosing the most absurd with such stiff competition is not easy.
I was struck by the totally unnecessary Smartypans connected saucepan. If you feel your saucepan is lacking a Bluetooth chip, a battery and temperature and weight sensors, here is the answer. Weighing ingredients and adjusting the gas flame really does not need the assistance of a computer and listening to voice commands from an app to me takes away the essential pleasure of cooking. Enough smart phones are lost in toilet bowls already, let’s not lose any more in the frying pan.
From smarty pans to smarty pants: yes, the first prize must go to the particularly French daftness of Spinali Designs Essential Vibrating Connected Jeans and Hot Pants. At first I was convinced they were a send-up but, I assure you, they are for real – an extremely elaborate, expensive and clumsy alternative to the ring-tone.
‘Active managers and others looking for a solution to combat burnout will find the system particularly interesting. Indeed, the associated application allows you to configure your email settings so that the sensors will only vibrate in the case of very important information. This function eliminates the need to constantly check your phone, thus putting a technological buffer between your connected life… and your need to concentrate and relax while still remaining available for essential matters’.
Which I guess means your pants will vibrate when your lover calls but not someone trying to sell you accident insurance. And you’ll be pleased to learn that ‘If you don't wear them, they fall asleep’.