A bread-baking robot that cranks out golden, fresh loaves every six minutes. Another robot built just to love you—and is cute enough to make you want to keep it around. A wearable electrocardiogram monitor that connects to one of the major innovations on a blood pressure cuff to emerge in decades. In-ear translation. The first wireless router built just for 5G.

Sound like a lot to sift through? It is.

This is a small fraction of what NACD staffers who attended a pre-show event for the press encountered ahead of the official opening of CES today, and we’re here to make sense of what to pay attention to, and to focus on what the experts are saying about the future of technology.

NACD and Grant Thornton on Monday night welcomed a group of directors and their guests to cocktails and dinner over a panel discussion that set the scene for a busy two days to come. Ahead of their arrival, NACD staff went behind the scenes to preview exhibitors’ booths and attend sessions featuring some of the foremost leaders in connected technologies.

What did the experts have to say ahead of the opening of the show floors? Their insights follow.

The guru of CES points out what merits directors’ attention. NACD Chief Programming Officer Erin Essenmacher snagged a few minutes with Shelly Palmer, CEO of The Palmer Group and emcee of one of the most-attended sessions at CES, to discuss how directors should focus their time and analysis of the items on the show floor. (For more from Palmer, stay tuned to NACD’s YouTube channel.)

When asked about what most excites him about CES, Palmer said
the event is like a crystal ball for business people looking to see what’s
next. Palmer emphasized that technology is about serving the customer and
changing their behavior. “Technology is a tool,” Palmer said, “and
it’s useless unless it changes the way we behave. It needs to make us more
productive, or healthier.”

Palmer, who has been attending CES for the last 30 years and will lead NACD’s CES Experience tour today, said he most enjoys witnessing the evolutionary steps that companies take, and how they respond to disruption.

Take, for instance, personal assistants and their recent iterations. Palmer in recent presentations has asserted that incremental innovations in personal assistants are not just hype. Rather, companies such as Amazon and Google are being improved to hook customers on the platform, and to improve the answers given based on voice commands. The more consumers change their behavior while using the tool, the smarter the underlying artificial intelligence (AI) becomes. The same iteration is happening in other devices, and in the companies that have entered the competition for their business lines.

Palmer also drew attention to the growing sophistication of AI and its ability to recognize people. While Apple has never exhibited at CES, its facial recognition technology is being used to log into phones and to identify patterns in data related to healthcare, for instance. In a presentation made exclusively to NACD members and others who will tour CES, Palmer pointed to Google AI’s Lymph Node System, a technology that has helped doctors recognize patterns in patient data that lead to breast cancer diagnoses with 99 percent accuracy. “AI is a super exciting field and technology. Everyone here claims it, and some lie about it, but ultimately this is a technology that is going to matter,” Palmer said.

The connected future
will require a paradigm shift.
A panel of executives from companies such as
Qualcomm and Verizon Technologies addressed a standing room-only audience about
the challenges that companies, governments, and the economy will face as
autonomous vehicles (AV) get closer to market. While the panel focused
predominately on AV challenges, many of the same principles could be applied to
other industries and facets of life touched by the Internet of Things.

We all have a
keen desire to make world better place,” said Lani Ingram, vice president of
smart communities at Verizon. “But it’s not always easy. I do think we have the
ability to make lives better. The goal is to make sure we don’t lose sight of
that while getting up to speed.” Ingram’s comments were made during a discussion
of the practical challenges to how we think about and operate as citizens and
businesses within cities as we now know them. Among the points discussed were:

  • The
    growing need for speedier, more adaptable regulations.
    The panelists agreed
    that regulation still has a place in ensuring the safe, secure operation of
    autonomous vehicles. However, they agreed that the slow pace of creating
    regulations hinders the development of new infrastructures that could make
    connected cities viable and safer.
  • Insuring
    against risks will significantly change consumer and business policies
    . One panelist pointed out that the
    current risk burden of operating a vehicle lies on the driver, not on the
    company that produced the vehicle. Who is responsible when the artificial
    intelligence and machine learning used to operate AVs fails to keep passengers
    safe? The question poses implications for companies that might face direct
    liability, and is still being figured out. Unknown unknowns also will likely emerge
    as the technology matures and more cities become connected.
  • The way
    that municipalities and governments think of infrastructure must change—or their
    citizens might get left behind.
    Panelists agreed that companies are likely
    to become heavier investors in the infrastructure and sensors needed in cities
    and towns for autonomous vehicles to operate widely. Cities that do not agree
    to allow or make their own investments in such infrastructure risk falling
    behind locales that might attract future-thinking citizens, and such a loss
    could result in a decrease in tax revenue and loss of talent and revenue for
    companies.

Check back on Wednesday for coverage and more expert takes on
the main event: tours of the CES show floors and a look at an exclusive
pitch-off sponsored by KITE.