AI Briefing: What marketing and tech experts noticed at CES 2024

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With CES 2024 behind us, it’s clear many in marketing and beyond see plenty to be excited about with AI — and also plenty to be fearful about in the coming year.

Unsurprisingly in Las Vegas last week, AI was inarguably one of the hot topics. Major brands and startups alike spent the week touting new AI chatbots for everything from cars and bikes to smart TVs and personal devices. Meanwhile, other companies harnessed the past year of generative AI hype to show off platforms for making AI avatars, gaming experiences and other uses for health, tech and homes. 

Despite all the talk about AI on- and off-stage, some marketers noticed many exhibitors weren’t touting AI in their booths. Eric Hunter, a brand strategy consultant at Performance Branding Consultants, said the more mature tech companies on the showroom floor weren’t making it a “single point of differentiation” and instead focused on the benefits that come from embedding it into larger solutions.

“I began to assume that everything had AI embedded in the solution,” said Hunter, who previously was Logitech’s global head of brand planning. “Most everything would somehow leverage the ability to learn and improve performance in some way. When AI was presented as the primary benefit, I was a little skeptical of their understanding of the technology.”

AI is still in the “formulation stage,” said Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of S4 Capital, which owns Media.Monks. He sees how AI already is changing visualization, copywriting, hyper personalization, knowledge democratization and other aspects of marketing. However, he still found many of the AI-enabled products shown at CES — such as smart refrigerators — to be disappointing.

“I’m very bullish on [AI],” Sorrell said. “It’s had a lot of focus and attention, but I think it will be a destroyer of jobs. That doesn’t mean that the outputs will not be very helpful. They will be. Take media buying and planning. You’ll have better decisions being made about portfolios and everything else.”

Amidst all the AI excitement, others see plenty to worry about

There was also plenty of concern at CES about how generative AI will enable misinformation during a pivotal election year. In on-stage discussions, off-stage interviews and plenty of off-the-record conversations, marketers, AI experts and policymakers think 2024 could be a make-or-break year for addressing various risks before it’s too late. 

On Friday, a bi-partisan panel featuring four U.S. senators discussed Congress’s 2024 priorities for addressing AI and other emerging tech. U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper (Colorado) said it’s important to be transparent about what is AI, what isn’t and how to tell the difference. He also noted that forcing companies to undergo some sort of strategic assessment on a regular basis will help reassure consumers and build trust: “This is a competition that has stakes so high you can’t measure them in Las Vegas.

“That’s going to be one of the big issues here,” Hickenlooper said. “There is so much suspicion and distrust … You listen to some of the authors and creators. How protected are they? Each of these things have to be adjudicated and resolved in real time.”

Lawmakers also see AI’s impact on data privacy as another be a big issue. U.S. Sen. Cythia Lummis (Wyoming) said Congress will be looking to CES attendees to help them think of ways of using AI to improve data privacy rather than only focusing on how it inhibits privacy.

“We’re behind the eight ball,” Lummis said. “We’re never in front of this.”

Beyond the gadgets: How AI-powered software showed up at CES

While CES has always been a big show for consumer electronics, some of the startups in Las Vegas last week showed off new ways of applying AI for various software applications. Jared, a fintech startup based in Paris, gave a glimpse into how it’s using inference AI to enable a new app to help people make smarter decisions with their money. 

Another startup, Amsterdam-based Focus, gave demos of how it’s using large language models to help government and corporate clients analyze patent data to see what types of emerging tech might dominate the future, identify potential supply chain issues and notice potential areas for IP theft. Although it’s just using patent data, the company is also looking to add in more data sets including research papers, news, lawsuits, clinical studies and other types.

“For heads of R&D, you’ve got so many people pitching you, but you don’t have any quantitative data or objective way of determining which of the people pitching you actually have the real deal,” said Focus CEO Jard van Ingen.

AI and the future of spatial computing

Marketing and tech experts were also excited about how AI will help enable spatial computing. Although the metaverse was nearly nowhere to be seen or discussed, there were plenty of virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality headsets on the CES showroom floor. 

Sony used CES 2024 to preview the Japanese giant’s new XR headset for spatial content. China-based XREAL gave demos of its new XREAL Air 2 AR glasses. The Israeli startup Sightful opened sales for Spacetop — an augmented reality laptop — that combines a physical keyboard with an AR headset. Another startup, Amsterdam-based Holoconnects, let journalists interview its founder and CEO as he appeared in the company’s AI-powered Holobox. However, one of the biggest announcements in the category came from Apple — even though it wasn’t even at CES — which had a mid-week announcement about its new Vision Pro.

Cathy Hackl — a tech and gaming expert who wrote a book on spatial computing — described AI models as the “building block” for 3D-centric computing needed for various types of VR and mixed reality headsets to create expended reality experiences for digital and physical spaces. 

“CES was an interesting conversation about everything being infused with AI, but also what is going to replace our computers first but then eventually our our mobile phones,” Hackl said. “I also think 2024 is the year of vision. It’s the year of computer vision, the year of the Apple Vision Pro, the year of large vision models which is the next phase of this AI revolution. This kind of all goes together.”

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