Well, it’s a wrap. CES, the massive, annual consumer electronics show, is now history. To say it’s an extravaganza of epic proportions when it comes to trade shows doesn’t do it justice. It completely subsumes Las Vegas for about a week, from the Convention Center on one end of the strip to the Mandalay Bay Resort on the other. And all points in between.
I have been attending for many years mainly to see what’s up in the consumer section that may impact legal, whether it be apps, products, or, frankly, ideas. This year did not disappoint. I’ve been covering the show for Above the Law the past week and have offered several posts on events and products relevant to legal. Now that the show is over and I have returned to reality, here are my top 10 overall impressions — both legal related and in general.
- Some Statistics
First, some statistics, courtesy of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which owns and holds the show. There were over 4,300 exhibitors displaying their wares in various locations. 1,000 of these exhibitors were startups (CTA calls them the world’s “most promising tech pioneers”) housed in the basement of the Venetian Resort known as Eureka Park. Altogether, there were over 135,000 attendees at the show this year. I don’t know if that’s an attendance record. But it certainly felt like we were long past the pandemic pause. The lines were just as long as ever, and even though Las Vegas is a large city used to large conventions, CES was certainly crowded. Everywhere.
- The Exhibitors
Although the numbers suggest there were lots of startups in Eureka Park, it felt like the exhibit space was dominated more than ever by the big players. Samsung. LGE. Panasonic. The exhibit spaces occupied by these and other giants offered more of a performance than information. Let’s face it: It better be good when you have to stand in line for 30 minutes to get into the exhibit space of an industry behemoth. But while these big players had more space, it seemed like the smaller players that used to occupy the South Hall of the Convention Center were not as prevalent. That’s a shame because these are the people I loved talking to for their ideas and passion.
- The Exhibit Spaces
CES is technically a consumer product show, but it’s much broader than that. You see this when you look at the layout of the exhibit halls. Perhaps the largest area of exhibit space, for example, is devoted to automotive products. Not only are electric and self-driving cars on display but also all sorts of component parts are exhibited. It’s been said that CES is the world’s largest automotive show. From the looks of things, it may be. Other large sections of exhibit space are devoted to health, the home, appliances, televisions (of course), and various and sundry other electronic products. While the exhibit spaces are organized by and large by type of product, it’s still hard to see it all. And it takes some searching to see those things that could be relevant to the legal marketplace.
- The Keynotes
The keynote speakers were the usual array of CEOs of industry leaders. These companies include Intel, Siemens, Qualcomm, Walmart, and others. The CEO of Microsoft even made a guest appearance in the Walmart keynote, which I discussed in a previous post. However, this year’s keynotes seemed a little longer on sales and shorter on ideas and inspiration. I always enjoy the keynotes to hear the leaders of industry talk about the way they approach leadership, innovation, and challenge. And, frankly, to be inspired. Indeed, there was some of that, as my post indicated. I just wish there had been more.
- Gen AI
Ahhh, Gen AI, who could forget it. Preshow, it was predicted that CES2024 would be all about Gen AI and not much else. Indeed, there was a lot of Gen AI hype, but honestly, it was not as much as I expected. The discussions and marketing were more about what the products using Gen AI could do. It was refreshing to see the focus where it belonged.
- The Startups
In this vein, one of the most interesting events I attended was the opportunity for 10 startups to pitch to investors and the media. I wrote a post about that event, which was the kick-off to the show’s media days. As I there mentioned, of the 10 startups who pitched, only one offered a pure Gen AI product. The rest talked about products that they believed would solve practical everyday problems. Sometimes it pays to get back to basics.
- The Gadgets
Every time I return from the show, I see all sorts of articles about the products that were unveiled. I also get asked about all the weird and exotic products that were promoted. (Wired had a nice article on the 25 most interesting products exhibited at the show.) And I wonder: How did I miss all these things? But I learned long ago that you can’t see everything at CES. You have to pick your spots and my spots were things that might impact legal. So I missed all the flying cars (they have been there in one form or another for several years), the automated bidets, the smart dog collars, and the automated cat litter box cleaner, etc. Sorry. If you want to know about gadgets, there is amble press available. For me, the show is not about trendy gadgets but about relevance to my field.
- The Educational Sessions
I didn’t get to attend many of the educational sessions. However, there seemed to be lots of discussions about the ethical use of Gen AI. There were lots of sessions devoted to the potential for government regulations. Both are clearly concerns of the consumer tech industry. I didn’t see as many sessions on things like privacy and cybersecurity, the blockchain, or IoT. I’m sure there were some, but it didn’t seem to be as many as in years past. Getting a handle on the industry’s top concerns is always interesting, and the sessions reflect that.
- The Relevance to Legal
So, what was relevant to legal? The notion that good problem-solving is looking for pain points and then devising solutions that meet those pain points head-on. The idea that decisions on how to use Gen AI should be based on an examination first of what we, as lawyers and legal professionals, are uniquely qualified to do. And then using Gen AI to do everything else. The reality that generational changes, increased connectivity, and expectations stemming from AI, as well as more gamers, will all require lawyers to change how we persuade and the tools we use. The possibility of using the metaverse to meet the challenge of a lack of trial and courtroom experience in younger (and sometimes older lawyers). The need for legal tech vendors to get a handle on what their true customers need before firing off products that don’t accomplish anything except to heighten lawyer skepticism about technology. I come to CES to get these kinds of insights and this year did not disappoint.
- The Bottom Line
Bottom line, what is the show really about? For me, it’s all about the ideas. There are lots of products displayed on the exhibit floor that, for many reasons, will never hit the consumer market. These are the silly gadgets that get attention. But I like the fact that you see people pushing the envelope. It’s inspiring to be around these people. And the show is truly an international one. There are people present from almost every country. You hear countless languages being spoken. You are exposed to multiple cultures. That, too, is inspiring, especially coming from legal tech, where the conversations and product offerings often seem just to repeat themselves. I attend CES for the exposure to the new and different. It’s worth it.
So, there you have it. My wrap up for this year’s CES. Was it worth the trip, the standing in line, walking the endless exhibit floors, and hearing countless sales pitches?
You bet. Always is.
Stephen Embry is a lawyer, speaker, blogger and writer. He publishes TechLaw Crossroads, a blog devoted to the examination of the tension between technology, the law, and the practice of law.