A new article by Taylor Lorenz in the Daily Beast, CES Was Full of Useless Robots and Machines That Don’t Work, by virtue of doing what tech writers are never supposed to do, namely report as opposed to cheerlead, is being buried despite its importance.
Lorenz went to the what is the biggest, most important consumer tech trade show in the US, and arguably the world, and found that tons of the great new gotta-have-them wares in the pipeline don’t work. As in unabashedly, obviously don’t work or are so ludicrously not fit for purpose as to be the functional equivalent of not work.
This inability to even credibly fake next gen products, and worse, not even be embarrassed that they aren’t performing, is proof that the tech industry has gone past an event horizon into a state of obvious collective impotence and not one cares ore even seems to regard it as unusual. Broken companion robots for the elderly? Why not? A “tell you what to wear and how to take care of it” device….that depends on everything you own having RFID chips in them, which isn’t here, many never get here, and in any event excludes all those nice things you own now?
How about an idea that would seem a lot easier to implement: wheelie suitcases that follow you around? Nope:
90Fun’s Puppy 1 self-driving rollaway, which uses Segway technology to roll behind you, couldn’t go 10 feet without falling on its face. A Chinese competitor I observed in action kept losing its owner and was abysmally slow. I couldn’t imagine running late for a flight and trying to keep any of these in tow.
With all the outrages in the world, it may seem hard to get up in arms about a big trade show gone massively pear shaped. But you need to see this as proof of degeneracy and narcissism among our supposed best and brightest. When sports teams are trounced by opponents or score own goals, they have the decency to act upset and mortified. Here we have Silicon Valley exhibiting grotesque loserdom on a large-scale basis…and that’s somehow normal and OK? Did these people all go to schools where everyone got a prize for just showing up? This looks like the result of decades of overprotective parenting, of building self esteem matters more than teaching skills, finally coming home to roost.
It was bad enough a few years back when the Silicon Valley rage was apps, when they were generally trivial to build, trivial in utility, or worse, embodied degradation or sheer idiocy. Remember eShaver, a shaving app that didn’t shave but just made shaver noises? How about Birth Buddy, that allowed pregnant women to time their contractions and e-mail the results to friends and family?
Another anchor fad has been the Internet of Things, otherwise known as the Internet of Shit, or devices that are going to talk to each other and spy on you whether you like it or not. After being told how great it will be to give orders to your thermostat, or direct your oven to turn on remotely (since when are you going to leave food out at room temperature waiting for you to eventually turn cooking devices on), or the supposed killer app, having your fridge order milk when you are running low, which really looked like an excuse to sell people smart locks to let Amazon Man come into your house, we learn that IoT is full of bugs, not secure, will never be secure (that was before factoring in Meltdown and Spectre) and makes you hostage to firmware providers, both in the event of them failing or succeeding. For instance, as Malwarebytes pointed out:
Setting aside poor security design and implementation, “smart” devices like these tend to come with fuzzy legal boundaries surrounding ownership and maintenance. Last year, a home automation hub company called Revolv was shut down during acquisition. Rather than simply failing to provide updates, the devices were disabled.
This was an inconvenience for users, but what if it was your front door? Given the current state of mobile OS fragmentation, would it be that much of a surprise if a lock company simply declined to provide security updates? We couldn’t find any information on the means by which the new Amazon compatible locks are updated, how authorized delivery personnel will interact with the locks, and if any third party has access to data communicated by the lock and/or accompanying phone apps.
So this year, the hot new thing is robots. But while it appears that software engineers can get away with peddling vaporware and buggy products, hardware that does not work is more obvious. But no one seemed to regard that as an impediment.
This episode proves that Silicon Valley is no longer about products. It’s about VC hype and pump and dump. One has to assume that investors don’t bother looking to see whether things work. Offering memoranda, glossy sites, and the ability to foist paper onto greater fools is the dominant business model. How vulnerable is this to the end of QE? To China and the Asian tigers seeing we are going to be their lunch? To all of this crap tech collapsing so quickly that it won’t even last long enough to be called “planned obsolescence” and will lead to consumer revulsion against NewTech? Time will tell, and the implication of CES is that that time is coming sooner rather than later.