Much like the year that preceded it, the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) marked a drastic departure from past norms. While the excitement around new and innovative technology offered the usual air of glamour to the conference, the deeper undercurrent anchoring the show this year was much loftier.
In many keynotes, new product launches took a back seat to acknowledgment of the industry’s shared, societal responsibility. “For so many years, CES has really played a remarkable role in bringing us all together and showing the world where technology is going. Showing people, literally, the future,” Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, said in his keynote address. “Well, this year, I’d like to use my time to have a conversation about…what it means for all of us in the industry. What it means when we think about the promise of technology—and the peril, as well. And, perhaps most importantly, the responsibilities that…we all need to work together to address.”
The vision of the future presented at this year’s CES was unique in many ways—in part because, as Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg pointed out, the industry has been in a state of rapid acceleration. The past twelve months pushed fast-forward on innovations that would have otherwise taken years to materialize, and the industry is rushing to keep up.
“In 2020, one thing became very obvious, very quickly, as COVID-19 began to spread around the world: we leapfrogged five to seven years in the digital revolution,” Vestberg said in his keynote address, which officially opened the conference. “Now, instead of being our future, it’s our present: the future of productivity is now the current reality of work; the future of learning is now the current reality of school; the future of mobile payment is now the current reality of banking; and the future of streaming is now the current reality of entertainment.”
CES has long served as the place where the present and future meet. This year, however, that place of pride moved into people’s homes and onto their screens. And while it may have taken some of the wind out of CES’s sails, it has also recalibrated the industry’s approach to the future, putting humanity firmly at the center of technology.