‘TECHNOLOGY CAN CONNECT US ACROSS BORDERS, LEADING TO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT WE HAVE IN COMMON, NOT WHAT DIVIDES US.’
BY GARY SHAPIRO EDITED BY JERRY ROCHE
Innovation and growth are who we are. Our industry continues to expand, creating new markets. We’ve embraced America’s burgeoning start-up economy. We’re touching almost every part of consumer’s lives.
Innovative technology holds the promise to empower each of us. Our industry is literally changing the world, solving some of our most complex challenges and improving lives across the globe.
Billions of intelligent products and services are now woven into the fabric of our daily lives. They connect each other. And these products and services also, more importantly, connect us to each other. Connected devices that are constantly learning and discovering new ways of doing everything, and they are improving how we live. They’re creating a new era where intelligence and data are the new currencies.
It’s a new world of choice. New delivery models actually save resources in many different ways.
In 2016, more than 25 companies will be in our drone marketplace, up 208 percent over last year. And we estimate that over 400,000 drones were sold in the U.S. this past holiday season. Think about lives in remote villages that are difficult to reach with medicine; they’re not getting it through drones. We’re also talking about getting products to homes, first to rural areas but eventually even to cities where rooftop-to-rooftop deliveries will become a reality, relieving traffic congestion below. And think about if your child gets lost in a forest: Don’t you want a search-and-rescue drone looking for your child? It’s so much efficient and effective than thousands of volunteers combing the forest. Or in disaster relief: Needed supplies can be brought to remote areas with drones.
But there’s also economic issues: changing jobs and how we do things. Think about wedding photographers, think about farmers analyzing their crops, think about inspecting bridges, or even real-estate agents trying to show a different vision of where a home is by capturing an aerial shot.
[It] will totally change how we get things. When the space station astronauts broke a tool recently, it would have taken three months to have a new tool shipped to them. Instead, they used a 3-D printer and got it replaced in hours. 3-D printers can also make prosthetic limbs. And doctors are increasingly printing 3-D surgical models like kidneys, which allow them to practice before they do actual surgery. And in disaster areas, we’re also starting engineers putting together 3-D emergency shelters. Of course, in business, 3-D printing allows us to go to market so much quicker with rapid prototyping.
Another new delivery model, which will be huge, are self-driving or autonomous cars. The potential applications include door-to-door food delivery, carpool support. About 30,000 Americans lose their lives each year because of car accidents. Most of that will go away. It will not only save lives, but driverless cars will improve lives for seniors, people with disabilities, and even children. It will reduce accidents and congestion; it will increase safety, make us more efficient and give us time we didn’t have before. Indeed, autonomous, electric and connected cars are a driving force of innovation. They will change our entire concept of mobility.
THE SHARING ECONOMY
All of this is part of a bigger transition affecting our economy, a rapid growth of the sharing economy. The sharing economy creates jobs and influences the overall economy. The Wall Street Journal calls the sharing economy “a green shoot in a postindustrial age.” Sharing is green, but it also enhances consumer choice, lowers barriers to entrepreneurship, and increases the uses of capital. In 2014, access to affordable transportation brought in $156 million to local establishments in just two cities, San Francisco and L.A. Now, anyone can be an entrepreneur by offering under-used resources, from parked cars and spare bedrooms to specific skills and everyday chores. People can supplement their fulltime jobs with extra work with companies like Air B&B and Uber. [These companies] also bring services that are critical to areas not served by public transportation of people that can’t drive. With these services, people can visit, live and commute to areas outside of those served by existing hotels, taxis and public transportation — and they also save lives. Study after study has proven that ride-sharing services reduce the risk of drunk driving. MADD recently reported that alcohol-related crashes fell by 60 incidents per month for drivers under 30 in California since its ridesharing service began.
What we’re up against is old rules that impede innovation and block a safer world — a world of competition and choice. New entrants are important to our economy. They create jobs; they improve lives. And innovation, of course, changes everything. [New] products can solve realworld problems. They make us healthier, they improve our well-being, and wearable devices and smartphone apps actually change our behavior. Already, one out of 10 Americans is wearing a fitness tracker. By harnessing and sorting individual data, health care can be more personalized, democratized, and much more effective. Plus, technology can identify early-onset diseases, offer preventive health benefits, assist and manage chronic conditions, and provide more effective remote care of loved ones. We need technology to help take care of our aging society. Tech makes the world a healthier place for everyone, even those who can’t access or afford basic medical care. Sensors and smart apps combined together help combat cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Facial recognition, voice analysis, facial micro-cue technology and stress detectors are all coming together to make the world safer. Of course, we have to balance them against privacy concerns.
What are the billions of interconnected devices through the Internet doing? We’re saving energy: Real-time data from thermostats are already helping to avoid brown-outs and black-outs. In health care, there’s analysis and correlation of massive data that will affect how we treat people generally and individually. It’ll make us healthier.
Weather. Cars are going to be able to collect information on their temperature, whether their windshield wipers are moving, whether they just hit a pothole, even when they pass a car accident — and they’ll be immediately able to send that information to the cars behind them, thereby avoiding accidents, skidding, all sorts of things. First responders can come to the scene and immediately know the occupants, whether they are alive and what their condition is. Does this violate privacy? No, this helps save lives.
Even in aircraft safety, engine turbine blades send data to a server that analyzes their integrity, and of course in natural disasters, we learn so much immediately. This is the power of technology. This is the power of innovation. Of course there are going to be roadblocks and naysayers. There are those will see how bad guys use technology to threaten our security and privacy. We can never fully guarantee that the products and services our industries produce won’t be used for evil.
But I believe that technology can help us fight back and help protect us. Technology can connect us across borders, leading to a better understanding of what we have in common, not what divides us. So we can continue to pursue public policies that protect our safety and fundamental rights while allowing all these green shoots of innovation to thrive.
We need government to let the marketplace work, instead of trying to force its own rules that hamper entrepreneurs and innovation, whether it’s in health care, digital health, agriculture, communication, or even the ability to educate more broadly. The age of intelligence and data is going to allow us to improve lives on a scale that we have not seen before. [New] products not only hold the promise of making our lives better, they hold the promise of making our whole world better for us, our children and our children’s children. We have a bright future in front of us.
— Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), formerly the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). Data in this article can be found at cta.tech/salesandforecasts. The Consumer Technology Association produces annual consumer electronics studies that are available on its website. Watch Shapiro’s speech: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=X9BmTsLWaEs