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CES 2019: which consumer technologies will affect defence and security? Part one


Mike Sewart - Research and Innovation Director

What can the defence, security and critical infrastructure sectors learn from the world’s biggest consumer technology show? Mike Sewart, Research and Innovation Director, reports from the CES exhibition in Las Vegas on the opportunities and threats lurking in the latest commercial tech trends.

CES 2019
Artificial intelligence

The strongest theme to emerge at the show so far has been artificial intelligence. AI runs through just about everything, from home entertainment to sporting equipment.

A surge in progress is certainly evident in the consumer tech space – but what’s also apparent is that more complex and tightly regulated sectors may struggle to take full advantage of these developments.

Why? It’s largely a matter of trust.

It may not require a huge leap of faith to enjoy watching a film on an artificially intelligent television, but will members of the public trust AI technology to drive their cars, diagnose their medical conditions, or protect their businesses against cyber threats?

The value in AI in high-risk sectors lies in its ability to process huge volumes of data many hundreds of times faster than any human. By reducing the cognitive load, human workers can concentrate on using the skills that only humans possess – such as giving the data context and meaning to make quicker, better decisions.

This human/machine teaming approach will shape the workforce of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – but to achieve it will require big changes to corporate cultures. How will we hire people with the right skills? And how will we train them?

Virtual and augmented reality

Speaking of training…

VR and AR also have a strong presence at this year’s CES. We have already seen the adaptation of consumer gaming tech to train people in safety prior to entering high-risk environments, such as battlefields and coal mines.

This trend looks set to continue, blending virtual and real-world training to increasingly blur the line between the two. This may sound gimmicky, but it’s actually crucial – we want people to train in safety, but to experience the feeling of being unsafe, so trainers can better predict how they will respond under pressure.

Smart homes

The connected home is not a new phenomenon. We’ve been talking about the smart devices in our houses for over a decade. But where it was once limited to heating and fridges, it now seems that nothing is exempt from becoming networked into your digital life. What’s driving this is the integration of advances in near field communications, voice recognition/digital assistants, electronics size and scale, and AI software. Bringing developments together has created a flood of opportunity for companies seeking to get their kit into our lounges, bathrooms, kitchens and even the smallest room in the house. Today you can order a magic mirror that will tell you what product you need for your hair, or a lamp that will let you know if someone’s in your house.

For consumers it’s a magical time and a world of interactive opportunity. But look beyond the home and you can start to see that the same technologies have applications way beyond making sure you never run out of cheese. As the underpinning tech proves itself in the home, other more complex environments will begin to look at ways they can enjoy the same benefits, and, conversely, how much of threat they represent. Defence and security organisations in particular will be watching CES closely to better understand the way cyber attack profiles are going to grow, and to spot the ways in which smart homes can be a window on how to achieve a tangible advantage beyond your front door.