After the annual deluge of announcements, a few themes emerged from CES that will have an important impact on the rest of 2019 and beyond.

Jason Hiner/CBS Interactive

After all the CES product blitzes are done, the multimillion dollar booths are packed up and the PR buzz has utterly spent itself, the real trends become a lot more clear. Following CES 2019, some big tectonic plates are shifting. A few started moving in years past, others are more fresh. But four trends stood out above all the others.

Most people have been talking about these trends in terms of products, acronyms, and jargon, but we’re going to talk about them in terms of their actual human impact. We’re going to dejargonize and demystify them. So, let’s get started.

1. Tech that adapts to you

By far, the most-used tech term at CES 2019 was AI. The problem is that when most people hear “artificial intelligence,” they still think of human-like machines that could one day eliminate humanity, like in “The Terminator.” While there were a few robots at CES 2019, most of them were barely functional and entirely harmless. The AI that took center stage at CES was something very different.

“AI pervades the show,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association that runs CES. “Almost every major company is showing AI and applications that are just truly jaw-dropping,”

The closest thing to jaw-dropping was probably self-driving cars, which have been at CES for the past several years but took another step forward this year. CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt was one of the lucky few to hail a ride in a self-driving Lyft at the show, for example.

The biggest battleground of CES 2019 — Amazon Alexa versus Google Home — is primarily an AI battle that plays out in voice-powered smart speakers that are the hottest new category in consumer electronics. They’re quickly rising to the level of previous fast-growing categories such as smartphonestablets, computers, TVsand DVD players. They’re also rapidly becoming the AI poster child.

Google Assistant was omnipresent at CES 2019.

James Martin/CBS Interactive

The rest of the AI on display at CES was more subtle. It’s the software and algorithms that make phone cameras, 4K TVs, ovens, vacuum cleaners and other devices a lot smarter. It helps cameras take better photos based on the lighting conditions you’re shooting in. It helps TVs adjust their color and sound settings based on what you’re watching. It helps ovens identify foods in order to cook them properly. And, it helps robotic vacuums recognize socks and other objects in order to avoid running over them and getting clogged up.

These are a few examples of the most common ways companies were talking about AI at CES 2019. It’s important to note that this represents a fundamental shift in the technology world.

Up until now, most technologies centered around people having to learn and adapt to the tech, whether it was cars or computers, phones or TV remotes. That’s why the user interface has always been a priority — the ones that were the easiest for people to learn were often the ones that made the biggest impact.

Now AI is turning that entire paradigm on its head. It’s no longer about people adapting to technology. It’s about technology adapting itself to each person and each scenario. And that new paradigm took a big step forward this week. Just remember that it relies on ingesting a lot of data about you in order to learn your habits, patterns and preferences.

2. Tech that transforms mundane things

After AI, the next hottest buzzword at CES 2019 was 5G. For many, 5G simply means faster connections that will make it possible to download whole TV seasons in minutes, game in real time and livestream events from a phone. But the larger effect of 5G is going to involve connecting a lot more things to the internet.

For all the chatter about 5G at CES, we didn’t learn a whole lot that we didn’t already know. Samsung kept its 5G phone behind glass while D-Link’s 5G home router was probably the flashiest 5G thing at the show. As CNET’s Roger Cheng aptly put it at the end of CES 2019, 5G is even more of a confusing mess than ever.

But what we learned at CES is that entrepreneurs and developers are bringing connectivity and intelligence to more new places and things — and with it comes a world of new possibilities that are about to be enhanced and accelerated by 5G.

Some of the most interesting examples include:

While the Internet of Things has been a leading topic of recent CES shows, it faded into the background as a topic in 2019 — even though it was everywhere, if you were really looking. That’s not surprising when you consider the nature of IoT itself.

A lot of technology has become like fashion — conspicuous stuff that people use to express themselves, whether that’s a new phone, a flashy pair of headphones or a giant TV. But while the technologies of recent decades have become more and more conspicuous, the Internet of Things is going in the opposite direction. It’s about technology fading into the background and becoming part of everything. It’s about quietly transforming mundane things with data. And 5G will unleash a tidal wave of new projects, likely to begin en masse at CES 2020.

Read more at TechRepublic: Internet of Things: Progress, risks and opportunities (free PDF)

“It’s a mindset,” the CES team said about its new “CES Ready” slogan.

Jason Hiner/CBS Interactive

3. Tech that helps you sleep better

On the show floor at CES 2019, health tech and sleep tech were among the busiest booths, and there were more of them than ever. While you could think of sleep tech as being part of health tech, sleep tech has had its own separate pavilion at CES since 2017. Meanwhile sleep tech booths keep multiplying and expanding — it’s emerged as one of the hottest new categories at CES, and for good reason.

Americans especially are getting less sleep than ever, with some even declaring a “great American sleep recession.” New data from the US Centers of Disease Control and others have made Americans acutely aware of how bad their sleep habits are. Here are few stats:

Sleep Number has been one of the most prominent sleep tech companies at CES for the last several years. Its beds have had basic tech in them for a long time — with remote controls for adjusting the hardness or softness of the mattress and sleep angle. But now they’ve turned into smart beds by adding sensors and using an app that can give you data on your sleep patterns. They can connect to other health tech such as your fitness tracker and then give recommendations on how to adjust your daily patterns to improve sleep. At CES 2019, Sleep Number touted Olympic athletes and NFL football players using its smart beds to improve performance.

However, sleep tech at CES 2019 had far more to offer than just several brands of smart mattresses. One popular set of products was smart sleep masks and headbands, led by the Philips SmartSleepPhilips also has a separate Snoring Relief Band. There were also special lighting and sound products to help you fall asleep and stay asleep, smart sensors that can slide under your existing mattress, smart pillows to control your temperature while you sleep, smart hepa filters to keep you breathing clearly as you sleep and more.

4. Tech that saves lives

With so many citizens around the globe concerned about the state of the world and the future of humanity, it wasn’t a surprise that CES 2019 put a greater emphasis on technology that could make a larger impact on society.

We saw it at CES press day on Monday, January 7 when Ford’s Don Butler joined the Qualcomm press conference to announce that Ford would integrate Qualcomm’s “vehicle-to-everything” (C-V2X) technology across its fleet of vehicles in 2022. This C-V2X technology (see ZDNet’s explainer) will allow cars to automatically communicate with other cars, buildings, roads, traffic signals and literally see around corners. This will enable higher-level collision avoidance between vehicles as well as pedestrians and bicyclists, and improve traffic management and fuel efficiency.

Ford's Don Butler
Ford’s Don Butler speaks at the Qualcomm press conference at CES 2019.

Jason Hiner/CBS Interactive

There are over 1.2 million deaths from auto accidents worldwide each year, or roughly one every 25 seconds. While self-driving cars could eventually decrease this significantly, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication is an important first step in saving lives.

TechRepublic special report: Tech and the future of transportation (free PDF)

At the tail end of press day, one press conference that drew a surprisingly big crowd was the unveiling of Impossible Burger 2.0. Silicon Valley startup Impossible Foods launched the new version of the company’s plant-based burger that looks and tastes remarkably like beef at celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Border Grill in Las Vegas.

At the press event, Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown cited the fact that China asked its citizens to cut their meat intake by 50% in 2016 to help fight the country’s challenges with pollution and agriculture, but it has had little impact on China’s growing appetite for meat. Clearly, Brown wants Impossible Burger to be part of the solution. And it could be an option, since Impossible Burger 2.0 — which is both vegan and gluten-free — tastes so much like meat it actually grossed out some vegetarians.

Impossible Foods touts that eating one Impossible Burger in place of a cow-based burger saves the equivalent of 75 square feet of land, a half bathtub of water and 18 miles of emissions in a car. The company also points out that “animal agriculture occupies almost half the land on earth, consumes a quarter of our freshwater” and has multiple other negative impacts on land, food yield, and ecosystems. But Impossible Foods also believes in how much barbeque, tacos, and hot dogs play a part in humans’ favorite rituals and so wants to find a more responsible way to keep enjoying beef in more sustainable ways before the population grows to 9-10 million by 2050 and creates a food crisis.

The newest pavilion at CES 2019 focused on the topic of Resilience. As CES chief Shapiro explained it: “Recent natural disasters and climate change make it clear that our future history must ensure innovation will focus on preparedness and recovery… Resilience will [offer] a greater focus on how technology aids the localism and continuity of critical infrastructure and the ability to operationally bounce back or keep going during a crisis.”

The Resilience pavilion is an outgrowth of the CES expansion into Smart Cities in recent years. This year put greater focus around technologies and innovations that can help communities better protect against and recover from natural disasters, resolve water crises, improve food security, support first responders and make communication networks strong enough to survive epic storms.

“This need for more robust products to create an impervious infrastructure is becoming apparent in all geographies, so we want to see innovations that are truly resilient, which should dramatically protect and improve the lives of human beings,” said Carmichael Roberts, a board member of Zero Mass Water, a CES 2018 exhibitor that uses tech to pull water directly from the the abundant oxygen in the air.

Innovation that could improve the direction of humanity was a welcome development at CES 2019 for many attendees. During the CES tours that I gave in Tech West, when I mentioned the other things to visit at the show, the new Resilience pavilion was the thing people inquired about the most afterward. It will be important to watch if that interest sustains itself and can compete with the flashier gadgets of CES in the years ahead.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here