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Your regular host, Molly Wood, has been in Las Vegas this week — at CES, to be more precise. So we’re going to check in with her and her big takeaways from the show this year.
CES bills itself as the gathering place for developers, innovators and suppliers to showcase the very latest in consumer tech. About 4,400 companies exhibit and some 170,000 people attend from 160 countries. But there are still questions about how representative the show is, with continuing signs that it just can’t get it right when it comes to women in tech.
Wood called into our Marketplace studios from the CES show floor between interviews and panels. We started by talking about the big theme this year, 5G — the super-fast mobile broadband tech that’s supposed to revolutionize our online lives — and why we still don’t have it. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Molly Wood: As with so many things, it is infrastructure. It is simply a matter of getting all of these different cells — literal, physical cells — into all of these neighborhoods, all of these cities, all these rural areas, having the spectrum to support that. It’s roads and bridges that need to be built so that 5G can actually come out, and even if all of the technology is in place, if you can’t turn that system on, it’s not going to go anywhere.
Jack Stewart: Is there one particular takeaway that has really stood out for you from the the week there?
Wood: Sony, of all companies, unveiled an electric car prototype. They don’t intend to build it, as far as I know. It really is, truly, a prototype, but it’s a working prototype that everybody can get their hands on and sit in the seats and stream Sony movies. It was really meant to demonstrate how automotive is this next huge computing platform, and it just goes hand in hand with entertainment and all these other technologies. Everybody’s buzzing about the Sony electric car.
Stewart: Last year, you spoke with one of the leaders of the Consumer Technology Association, the group which runs CES, about the presence of booth babes at the conference. You saw them there in 2019. Any update this year?
Wood: I did. CES really continues to be unable to avoid gender-based controversy. I can tell you that I saw booth babes in one of the major halls in the convention center at the Nikon booth. What CES did, and what the CTA did, was say, “We’re going to implement a stricter dress code.” I think if you hue to that law, and you have really attractive female models in ball gowns instead of bikinis, that maybe you have achieved the letter of the law, but not the spirit. I think that culture change clearly takes time and perhaps stronger enforcement. And then, of course, you had a lot of controversy around Ivanka Trump appearing as a keynote speaker. For years and years, CES has not had female keynote speakers as a part of its big presentation lineup, and one of the reasons that they always gave was that there aren’t that many female CEOs of tech companies and that that was their filter. I think a lot of women were upset to see Ivanka Trump, who is not the CEO of a tech company and does not have particularly deep tech credentials, be one of the very few women giving a keynote address. Certainly, some of those gender controversies continue.
Molly Wood and I spoke about Sony’s technology test-bed electric car and its latest tech — the types of tech that could eventually lead to self-driving cars.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao spoke at CES and outlined the government’s AV 4.0 guidelines for autonomous vehicles. They’re basically a bunch of voluntary standards, with not a lot of details on enforcement. The industry might be happy, but safety groups are not.
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