Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, spoke with ZDNet’s Jason Hiner about the biggest tech trends he expects to see at CES 2019. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Jason Hiner: We’re arguably on the eve, of course, of the biggest week of the year in tech. And you and your team work and prepare all year for this. So let’s put you on the spot right away and ask what’s the most important innovation that CES 2019 is going to be remembered for?
Gary Shapiro: Probably artificial intelligence. AI is definitely one of the ingredient technologies that will be pervasive throughout the show. We have a separate dedicated portion to it. But so many companies have so many things and it really affects so many areas. And a lot of the keynoters will be talking about it. We certainly expect Ginni Rometty of IBM to be talking about it, Lisa Su of AMD as well, the chip company. And we could see others. That along with 5G, where we’ll have AT&T and Verizon’s top people on the keynote stage talking about it.
5G is clearly the future. Every 10 years there’s a new G — 4G was 2010, 3G was 2000. That’ll allow so many great things to happen. You have the transmission and you have the guts of it. And then there’s things that are just cool, like robotics, which I think will be part of CES, increasingly, for the next 20, 30, 40 years. I’d love to see it. And AR/VR [Augemented Reality/Virtual Reality] is still very strong.
Related to a lot of these things, including artificial intelligence, is self-driving cars. We expect a large group of car manufacturers, and if the government could get open, we’ll have the Secretary of Transportation and a lot people from Washington coming and looking at a lot of these technologies. As we speak here, that’s a big question mark, having dealt with a lot of official Washington today. It doesn’t look very promising.
CES, other than the government participation, in the US anyhow, will be strong. We’ll have strong support in the rest of the world: about one third of the people that come are from outside the United States, and a lot of major government officials, cabinet ministers, are coming from around the world.
Jason Hiner: Gary, the scope of CES continues to expand, right? TVs still make the headlines, of course, and so much of the mobile technology and accessories — things that feed into the mobile ecosystem — still make headlines. But just in the last five years alone, it’s spread into so many new areas — health, smart home, and other areas. Talk a little bit about that, and what are some of the newest, most exciting areas that CES is expanding into this year?
Gary Shapiro: Well, you’re right about a lot of things there, just on impact. And first yes, this is our biggest ever. We just figured out we have 2.9 million net square feet of exhibit space, 4,400 exhibitors. That’s a lot bigger than last year, which was about 2.75. We found extra space, we filled about everything we can, and we’re waiting for further expansion in Las Vegas. But TVs are still a big part. In fact, 8K is going to be one of the talks of the floor: we expect a lot of companies to show 8K, it’s really huge. We’re making sure that we’re active in that area and have definition so everyone knows what we’re talking about — as we’ve done in other technologies, like HDTV and other areas. When someone sells something to the consumer, they and the consumer understand what that means with certain basic technical requirements.
But there are other cool areas that are in a sense new or growing. Resilience is something we’re talking about a lot. We did have the power go out last year during CES, and we had a board meeting in the middle of the Napa Valley Fire without electricity, telecommunications, or coffee. And it got us thinking about resilience and the importance of our products and roles they can play. Healthcare, digital health, is absolutely huge in terms of solving the problems of healthcare around the world. That’s something where I think the world is heading in a very positive direction. We could get cures for things that basically fix things that are specific to our illness, our demographics, things like that.
There’s a lot going on there in different areas. The whole mobility area, certainly. It’s self-driving, it’s electric scooters, it’s electric. There’s more and more transportation people that come. We have a whole area at the show called C Space, which doesn’t get a lot of discussion, but it checks tens of thousands of chief marketing officers and content creators from around the world from all sorts of industries. Because one thing that’s changed, and I talk about this a lot in my book, is that being a vertical in an industry and just being specific to an industry is not a winning success formula anymore. You have to jump across industries, jump across knowledge bases, jump across cultures and languages. So you can do business, you could extend your brand, you could take the best from all the people to be one thing for everything. That’s why small companies are there in force.
We’ll have 1,200 companies in Eureka Park. That’s up about 20 percent. Big companies want that. They’re starting to partner with small companies. They realize they can’t invent everything, so they’ll invest, they’ll be the first customer. They love Eureka Park –they’ll send their whole teams there — that’s an area they say you just can’t get in. A lot of people want to get in, but it’s definitely… we carefully screen who is in there. All those things convene in Las Vegas and you get the value of serendipity, the discovery, the joy of finding something you didn’t know in a five-sense experience where you’re getting to see, feel, touch, hear, evaluate not only products but people. And you discover things you haven’t discovered before and across your different areas. And that’s what the show is about.
It’s about the joy of innovation, the future of innovation, the optimism that combines with beginning of the year of January with the fact that here are some fundamental solutions to big problems we face as humans, whether it’s in healthcare or agriculture. And you see that in the drones, in the robots. You see that in so many areas. In terms of what we’ll see in Vegas, you’ll see something you didn’t expect to see. And I promise you that, especially if you can walk the floor.
Jason Hiner: Excellent. You mention your book as well, so let’s talk a little bit about that.
Gary Shapiro: Oh, did I? It was an accident.
Jason Hiner: Your book just came out this week actually. So you’re also… you’re the author of multiple books, but the previous one was Ninja Innovation: The 10 Killer Strategies of the Most Successful Businesses. And now Ninja Future: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation is the new one that just came out this week. So my question is, why ‘ninja’ in this context that we’re talking about — innovation and innovators?
Gary Shapiro: Well, ninjas were ancient Japanese warriors who won against great odds by being super flexible, smart — they’d plan ahead, they’d prepare, but they knew when they hit the battlefield things would change, so they’d adjust quickly. It’s the same things that’s required in today’s competitive marketplace with changing technology, with intense competition — you have to be quick. And I talk about the technologies but I also talk about the strategies. For example, I say don’t create a five-year plan, don’t create a strategic plan, don’t do all these things as a startup that you’re supposed to do according to a lot of bankers and financiers. Basically you get your idea, your product out there, test it with your potential customers, and adjust along the way.
And I talk about our own experience. Our five-year plan here is a page and a half. It took us a day’s retreat to come up with and we changed a lot along the way, but it’s changed us dramatically and it’s allowed us to go into areas without all the specifics and boredom and tedium and silly tactics that are irrelevant within two months that go into long-term planning. So there’s a lot of things like that and how you deal with people, how you discover things, how you go over verticals, in the context of new technologies. And it’s same that entrepreneurs, the same that executives, and also frankly even governments who all want to emulate Silicon Valley. You’re not Silicon Valley. Figure out what it is you have that’s special and work off of that. Know your weaknesses.
And it goes into a lot of real personal advice, human advice, as well as business and technology advice. The ninja title is… It works. The publisher loves it, and you do what the publisher wants. I love it, too — it makes my kids think I’m cool!
Jason Hiner: Talk a little bit about the difference between the two books, Gary….your last one and the new one.
Gary Shapiro: The last one, Ninja Innovation, was really focused on secrets to success from the world’s leading companies. A lot of these tech companies, I’ve gotten to know them through CES and their CEOs, and I’ve observed and I’ve formed my own conclusions, and I tied that into the ninja tactics. Ninja Future is stepping on that and saying, those are the success things that big companies do — here’s some other things you can and should be doing: here’s the technologies you have to know about. I use the old Rumsfeld 2×2 Matrix to talk about things we know are going to happen — we know we’re going to get to robotics and drones and artificial intelligence, and probably quantum computing. Here are things we don’t know but could happen. Here are the things we don’t know that we don’t even know. And those are the things I can’t even talk about because I don’t them either. But I’ve been pretty good the last 30 years at figuring out which technologies going to take off and decrying those that don’t. I was really down on 3D television…
Jason Hiner: Me, too.
Gary Shapiro: I had to offer to resign on that basis. Luckily my board didn’t accept my resignation. But other technologies like HDTV and 4K I was about as excited as could be. I was really high on drones and I’m big on robotics. Still artificial intelligence, to me, solves a lot of the world’s problems. These are the things I talk about and where they’re going, how you partner, what you do. I’ll be wrong, but I’ll also be right, I think, more than I’m wrong. I just want to share my passion, my enthusiasm, my knowledge, and the life tricks I’ve learned. I talk about personal things like my mother having Alzheimer’s and how facial recognition technology can really help people with Alzheimer’s and it’s a shame we’re killing it. And then talking about the tension between that and concerns about privacy, where we’re facing issues of privacy in jobs and things like that.
I cover a whole range of areas that are very current and hot, but more a focus on the next several years to get us to the future that I think we all want to go to. The technology is really good if we play it right, and here’s the things we should do as a society, here are the things we can do as individuals, companies, and governments.
Jason Hiner: That’s good. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. I got a look at one of the early copies. And of course I care about the topic — as you and I talked before the show, I did my own book Follow the Geeks on Innovator.
It’s a great topic. There’s one bit in it that I wanted to ask you about. There’s a lot of things in there. Last question: there’s a section in there called ‘Spend Less, Know More’, and that so flies in the face of what we think about with the tech industry, and even consumer spending and all of that, which is ‘more is more’, right? Could you talk a little bit about this concept of spend less, know more?
Gary Shapiro: Help me with it. Look, I’ve written a book, I did the Audible version, and I need a little more flesh on that…
Jason Hiner: What you’re talking about is consumers are getting more and more intelligent about the ways that they approach the industry, and so as a marketer — or obviously in the business I’m in, information business — we have to give them more information, more concisely, and we have to help them be better informed consumers. And consumers of course themselves, and companies — and by extension, media businesses — have to better inform consumers if they want to win them over because if they don’t, somebody else will.
Gary Shapiro: Right. I mean it’s a hyper-competitive world that we’re in now where consumers are fingertips away on their phone or their tablet from figuring out what it is they want. And so, ‘what business are you in?’, is what every business has to ask themselves: are you in a knowledge business, the expert business, the service business? Are you in a quick-response business? You have to know what your unique selling proposition is, your competitive strength. And then you play off that and you can outsource almost everything else. I would include in that partnering, where you play off someone else’s knowledge and they play off yours — or off your brand’s to reach consumers, which is happening all the time. There’s so many examples that. I was just reading about how Delta’s doing well because they’re with American Express — people want the Delta Credit Card then the American Express Card seems less important. And they’re making a lot of money on that, because they are both playing off each other’s brands. That happens all the time with any major brand. So it does require partnering.
And you just can’t fool consumers in a sense. You have to be honest, transparent, find your voice, know your marketing position, and give it to them. It’s just like I do in my job and I kind of do in life, which is try to be as honest as possible. And that way I don’t have to waste a lot of brain power figuring out all the deceits and who I told what to — I just pretty much say the same thing to people. I say the same thing to journalists that I say to my kids.
It’s just like there’s not… I don’t have a lot of secrets. Which makes my life a little less complicated.
Jason Hiner: It’s good life advice for business and just being a human being navigating this world.
Gary Shapiro: Safe travels. Enjoy CES, and have a great 2019.