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Baby you can drive my car

Posted: 01.22.14

So much of the news coming out of CES was focused around cars and robots that no one is even talking much about the latest, greatest, most giant TV in the world, whatever it is. A contender is Vizio’s 120-inch Ultra HD, Samsung’s high- and ultra-high-def 102-inch curved TV. All the great and huge TVs will play hell with your interior design choices. Might as well give it up and put something pretty on the TV and let the couch continue to deteriorate. No one will see it.

Lenovo came from the other direction of a big 28-inch 4K tablet monitor that you can lie flat to play Parcheesi on it or set up and gather the family around to watch TV. As we saw last year and the year before, PCs are turning into TVs, and smart TVs are really PCs, and everything is going to be a game console.

It was the little things that got most of the attention at CES. Watches made an appearance, and this time around they don’t look quite so stupid, but so far no one is making a really compelling case for them. Why don’t I just strap my phone to my wrist if it’s just too difficult to pull it out and look at the screen? We seem to becoming people who need to look at a screen every second.

Blessedly though, we didn’t see all that many pairs of Google Glass actually being worn. It’s possible these things are losing their appeal even before they actually come to their own private island in the San Francisco Bay. Or maybe it’s that the high-tone gloss of don’t-be-evil is wearing off as we realize all these cute companies are putting the private lives of each and every one of us up for sale.

CES 2014 this year made me think we might as well be living in our cars. The semiconductor companies are fighting hard for a berth somewhere in the automobile, and the great thing is, there’s plenty of room for lots of vendors as systems proliferate—sensors, self-driving features, in-car entertainment, and all that. These cars will have all the comforts of home. But, there is a lot of outraged chatter on the Web that everyone will know where we’re going in our connected cars.

Really? Bubba, the only one who cares where you’re going is your ex-wife because you haven’t paid your child support in five years. Anyway, everyone already knows where you’re going because your cell phone is attached to you like a giant wart, except that people don’t talk to their warts quite as much as you talk to your phones via voice and text and soon wiggling fingers.

Me, I’m so looking forward to smarter cars: A. Please, please, car, park yourself, and B. Please, car, if you can’t come get me, at least tell me where you are in the parking lot. Of course, that won’t be much of a problem if I’m sleeping in it.
Audi’s keynote featured a video of a chauffeur running his business from his tablet, sending a fleet of cars to pick up customers—a pretty glamorous look at an uncomfortable truth. As we automate every aspect of our lives, how will our children make a living?

The year 2014 promises to be one of the best economically in a decade. I believe that. But unlike economic booms of the past, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all boats are getting raised. It’s possible more people are going to be swept away as machines come online to do the jobs we used to do when we had just gotten out of college or were between jobs, or in between raising kids.

Yes, in one sense, the great wave that took jobs offshore is coming back in and bringing back some jobs. Factories are returning because there are efficiencies to be gained by being close to your markets. And, at some level there will always be room for humans in service jobs because we’d really rather talk to a human than have our food shoved to us by an automated clown. But nothing can change the fact that as new jobs are being done more efficiently, fewer people will be doing them. Have you ever walked through a fab these days? They are giant white ghost palaces. The factories of the future are well on the way to becoming the same.

We have to improve education to teach people to do new jobs, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are going to be fewer jobs. So now what? Do we have a plan for feeding people and keeping people occupied? Oh yeah, I forgot, all those screens on our wrists, walls, heads, cars. The blessing perhaps lies in the fact that we are sociable people. We need someone to talk to. Maybe along with improving education in the STEM disciplines, we’d better add a healthy dose of liberal arts so that we are at least interesting to talk to. It may become a job skill.