CES 2018: Interview With Steve Koenig - Senior Director Of Consumer Tech Market Research

The most wonderful time of the year (for tech nerds) is here again - the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) - to indulge us all with the future of gadgets.

Every year dictates what the following 12 months will look like in the world of consumer tech, all meticulously calculated through plenty of market research conducted by the Consumer Technology Association (the company behind CES). 

And who looks after all this research? Senior Director of Market Research - Steve Koenig. After listening to his market trends presentation in London (here are the trends), I got the chance to move beyond our football rivalries (I’m Forest & he’s Wolves) and speak to him in an exclusive interview. Let’s get nerdy.

1. Give me the backstory of how these tech trends are determined. What research is done to reach these conclusions?

Whilst there are manifold trends to consider—from macro to miniscule—the trends I presented directly align with CES and areas we wish to promote. 

That said, there are many other areas of interest at CES such as: digital health and therapeutics technology, future mobility solutions, home theatre, smart home, robotics, etc.

2. Let's dive straight in at 5G networking. While the rate of innovation in data speed has been rapid in developed countries, it's leading to an increasingly fragmented planet of networked connections - not just in developing countries but also in these countries with current high-speed 4G networking (many rural areas and some villages/towns are still not covered in the UK).

Would 5G networking help with this issue, or should there be further regulation to ensure everyone everywhere gets high-speed data?

5G has the potential to ameliorate coverage issues in most geographies, but it all depends on spectrum allocation and the plans of the mobile carriers. Spectrum allocation concerns what frequencies are authorised by governments for 5G networks. 

In the UK, the regulating body Ofcom is currently is evaluating different opportunities to enable the planned 5G rollout in in the UK by 2020. The priorities and plans of carriers operating in a given country are where ‘the rubber meets the road’ for 5G coverage. In the UK, BT is working making the business case for 5G. More on that here.

3. Next up, VR and AR have been separated in your trends talk, following the previous year where Shawn Du Bruvac predicted a 'mixed reality' blend of the two.

What do you think has happened to stop this from being the trend consumers moved towards, as the bigger tech companies are betting on either of these two rather than both?

intel virtual reality ces.jpeg

Mixed Reality is actually a ‘middle ground’ between VR and AR. Microsoft calls it ‘Merged Reality’. MR is like AR; only the virtual elements can interact with the physical environment. 

I agree we will probably see some MR applications—likely initially in entertainment. For now, VR’s developing as a storytelling medium and finding new use cases beyond infotainment. 

Think: Medicine, Real Estate, Sports. AR will see massive development in 2018 and I predict several of the apps we use today will evolve into AR apps. Think: navigation, retail.

4. Next up, a smarter AI. Do you feel this greater investment, through both software and hardware (Intel's Nervana for instance) could get to a point of passing the Turing test? And where do you feel the impact will be felt greatest of improved AI?

AIs will continue to take on more tasks and work alongside humans in difference instances as their capabilities improve. For the foreseeable future we can expect more interactions (directly or indirectly) with narrow AIs. 

These are AI systems that are purpose-built for one use case. Already we have compelling AI-driven chat bots that may be able to pass the turning test for their narrow function. General AIs (think: HAL 9000, or Fail Safe on Destiny 2) are more than a decade away by most estimates. These are the real candidates for passing Turing test.

5. As for smart cities, a problem I see is one of compatibility. As we spoke about at the dinner, my Gran struggles to use her cable box, let alone any other more modern piece of technology.

If the infrastructure is updated through the use of 5G networking and artificial intelligence, along with a further need for digital devices to interact with the city, does this restrict compatibility? How is the infrastructure going to remain open and welcome to the elderly and less technologically inclined?

I recall the conversation! Thinking of your Gran’s struggles, wireless technology, biometrics and speech recognition, AI and other innovations should lessen the number of technology challenges we as consumers face today. 

One of challenges facing smart cities is indeed tech adoption of the city’s residents. Affinity for tech is only loosely correlated with age, so it is not the best predictor. Tolerance of privacy matters and trust in data security are much larger issues because if a smart city system is deemed too invasive or lacking protections could dissuade the most enthusiastic tech user. 

Fortunately there is as much work begin done to improve data security as there is in developing smart city initiatives.

6. Speaking more broadly about technology, what is your favourite gadget - new or old?

I’m very excited about the possibilities for companion or social robots like Buddy or Kuri.

7. Through plenty of research, you have predicted the tech trends of 2018. But what do you feel the future holds further afoot? If you were to dream big, what do you see happening to technology over the next twenty years?

The next twenty years will see massive disruption, but this change will enable new business models and new consumer experiences that we might consider Sci-Fi today.

To get an idea of how this transition will feel we can compare life before the Internet to life here in 2017. When was the last time you used a phone book or dialed a pay phone? Content was on media; now content is in the cloud. We had cruise control in our cars, but now cars can drive themselves. We still fumble with keys today no doubt, but now we have wireless and biometric options to secure our doors. You carried paper files home in your briefcase. Now we carry our laptops around home with digital files – or just login to the company VPN.

I think we are seeing a small facet of that future ahead in so many of the emerging technologies we see today: AR/VR/MR, AI, Robots, Drones, Self-Driving Cars, biometrics and more. It’s exciting to think that something like the Star Trek Holodeck will likely become a reality. A virtual escape or training ground. Wearables will become implants to aid and assist humans in various ways.

Note: I’m not suggesting the Borg! Driving will become a hobby as self-driving cars take to the streets. To do a shop, you had to go out or make a call. Now we can order online by using our voice (amazon voice shopping). Cash will become obsolete as mobile payment systems become ubiquitous. Robots will do more for us and many of us will welcome them into our homes and treat them like family.

The future will amaze and inspire us and will overall improve the human condition much like the Internet and IoT has for us today compared to 20 years ago.

8. And finally, last year, the UK government's lack of support for tech firms was viewed as an 'embarrassment' by Gary Shapiro. Do you feel the UK's tech space is receiving the support it deserves for this year and in general with newly introduced policies?

Indeed. We’re excited that for the first time techUK is hosting a pavilion to showcase UK tech start-ups in Eureka Park. We’re expecting loads of UK start-ups at Eureka Park this year including those within the new UK Pavilion.

Click the image for all the coverage I got at CES 2017!

Click the image for all the coverage I got at CES 2017!