The annual Consumer Electronics Show aims to forecast which tech items will become parts of our daily lives. Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist Joanna Stern examines the show's track record and previews some of the most-hyped items this year.
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SHAPIRO: In a few minutes, we'll hear the latest piece in our series, Is My Job Safe? First let's turn to this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This is the place where the tech industry gives us a glimpse of the future that they predict. Joanna Stern is there. She's the personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Welcome.
JOANNA STERN: Great to speak to you.
SHAPIRO: What's getting the most buzz this year?
STERN: Lots of things are getting some buzz here, but I think the biggest thing is the fight between Amazon and Google in the personal assistant space. Amazon has its Alexa, and Alexa was huge at CES last year. All these manufacturers integrating Alexa - the voice assistant - in everything from smart home products to laptops and different types of computing devices, cars, et cetera.
This year, Google is here in a big way. Google hasn't been at the show in a number of years in a booth presence. But they've put up a huge booth, and they're talking to all the different manufacturers here and saying, we're going to have our Google assistant in those products. And so they are advertising their, hey, Google or the Google assistant pretty much everywhere you are in Vegas.
SHAPIRO: Often at the Consumer Electronics Show, we hear about things that sound really futuristic, and so I'm wondering how many of those predictions have come to pass. When you think about the things that you saw at last year's show, are many of those integrated into our daily life now or at least something that people are familiar with?
STERN: I think there's these wacky ideas that come out of CES. For instance, last night I saw a robot that folds laundry. But is something like that coming along - I don't know - in the next year? And is it going to come along from a major manufacturer you want to buy it from - probably not. I mean, this company definitely seems to be putting together some neat stuff, but that's sort of what CES is all about - seeing these prototypes and how they may come to fruition.
I sometimes think 5 to 10 years out. This year, the focus on the voice assistants - obviously that's here right now. Another major thing people talking about here are the autonomous vehicles - the self-driving vehicles, self-driving cars - also a number of years out just mostly because of regulatory issues. But you know, companies like Lyft here are picking people up in self-driving cars - lots of other auto manufacturers showing off their improvements there, too.
SHAPIRO: What about the technologies that so many of us interact with every day - our laptops, our mobile phones? Are you seeing dramatic upgrades or changes in what these tech companies predict for the future of those?
STERN: Not so much on the phones here but definitely on the laptops. Dell has a new laptop but a lot more of the same. It's looks very nice but a lot more of - you know, thinner, lighter, longer battery life. The interesting thing to me is - is that as you look around at CES, all of these innovations depend on a type of technology that's actually pretty old, and that's lithium-ion batteries. And what are these companies doing to extend the life of these to make them safer and to, you know, really deal with the fact that we're holding onto these gadgets for longer; these batteries need to last for longer - so some interesting developments there but again kind of showing how our future is being held back by some of these technologies we need to work.
SHAPIRO: OK, so battery life is very functional, utilitarian, important but, some might say, boring. Is there anything you've seen that is just really fantastical that you're telling everybody about?
STERN: Yesterday I was followed around by a piece of luggage that is a self-driving piece of luggage.
STERN: And I kid you not.
SHAPIRO: And - what? - it just, like, connects to your phone and knows not to stay far from the thing that's in your pocket. Is that how that works?
STERN: Exactly right. And so because pulling your luggage is hard at the airport, these bags can follow you around. And actually it worked pretty well, which was, you know, the really surprising part. And on top of that, not one, not two, but three or four companies are showing this off here. So yeah, that's the main trend.
SHAPIRO: That's Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist Joanna Stern speaking with us from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Thanks so much.
STERN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.