The annual tech extravaganza known as CES officially opened its doors today to nearly 200,000 attendees from across the world to experience 2.7 million square feet of exciting exhibit space sprawled across Las Vegas. Now in its 51st year of operations, CES is more relevant than ever given it’s the biggest global stage for companies to demonstrate what technology products and services are likely to be commercialized in the year ahead for business and consumers.

Beyond commercial interests, CES also provides an important opportunity for company leaders to demonstrate a path forward to a brighter future for the tech industry, which has recently experienced an unusual backlash from a cross-section of audiences including influencers, policy makers, consumer advocates and investors within the US and aboard. Taken together, given the range of critical issues – from individual privacy, personal safety, mental health and the integrity of our democratic principles — now facing Big Tech companies, CES 2018 represents a watershed moment for the tech industry to show how it can be responsible leader in society.

On a personal level, my first impression of how CES is different this year concerns security – an issue that gained greater urgency following the tragedy three months ago in Las Vegas experiencing the deadliest mass shooting in modern history. Event organizers have noticeably ramped up safety measures amid the potential for greater security risks with such a vast influx of people concentrated in relatively tight confines. The obvious differences this year include seeing armed officers at the airport and public areas, canine patrols inside and outside conference venues and official vehicle blockades at all major traffic points. While all this might help boost confidence amongst attendees, it also complicates the typically insane traffic congestion and hours-long wait times to get anywhere – at least some things stay the same at CES!

With that said, following is a short list of initial observations of top trends and issues on my mind while attending the first 24 hours of CES 2018:

  1. Purpose. This is the year that brands can demonstrate how their products and services are relevant what’s most important to their audiences. And why those audiences should care. The ability to stand for something good is far more important than simply showing a marginal improvement in features and functions. Consumers need a reason to believe.
  2. UX. The way individual can now experience multiple senses while using new tech products is on full display at CES. Winners will address the use case for when to use sight- vs voice- vs touch- vs gesture-based or even mind-controlled user experiences. How matters.
  3. Intelligence. Any product, service or experience that can be improved by machine learning algorithms, deep learning or neural network sensing applications will be worth another look at CES. Things using Artificial Intelligence will continue to make headlines beyond CES, but examples of hardware or software improvements that improves human’s ability and intellect will matter the most.
  4. Security. People need to have confidence that the choices they make — when it comes to individual brands and products they purchase — will in fact improve their ability to defend or advance their control over the security of their personal and/or business data. Safer is better.
  5. Autonomous. Self-driving and -learning machines that better serve people across multiple modalities are receiving the most buzz this year. From robots who assist humans at home or in business, to personal digital virtual assistants who can be summoned with a voice command or a gesture, to app-based flying robo-taxis that will pick you up and take you somewhere you need to go, autonomy as a service will be a game changer in the years ahead for everyone.

To offer a glimpse of some of the technologies on display today at CES, please see the following 1-minute video highlight reel. Enjoy!

Simply click below to watch my movie.

CES 2018: Day 1

By Rowan Benecke, Chair of Burson-Marsteller’s Global Technology Practice.