Going beyond innovation
The lights in this city always stay bright. And despite concerns over water levels in the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas has become the ultimate example of how modern civilization can conquer nature - in this case, through solar power generators in the desert.
In January, I visited Sin City for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the biggest electronics exhibition in the world. Lately, the CES, which used to present home appliances like washing machines and refrigerators, has established itself as an exhibition that provides a glimpse into future technologies.
Now, Internet of Things (IoT) devices and services that combine ICT technology and existing industries are presented here. While televisions by Samsung and LG took up the main booths, the focus was on how the IoT field was expanding to smart homes and automobiles. New devices like wearables, VRs, 3D printers and drones are actively expanding the market.
Most impressive was the transformation of automobiles. Cars, the hero of the second industrial revolution and the pinnacle of mechanical engineering, now have major presence at the consumer electronics show. Top automakers like Mercedes Benz, Audi, BMW and Toyota led with their “connected cars,” followed by American brands Ford and Chevrolet, and Hyundai Motor. It was actually rather shocking to see that cars are now essentially “mobile devices” on wheels.
But innovation does not stop there. The energy revolution has joined in the union of machines and electronics. Carmakers are working on alternative fuel development, advancing the end of the fossil fuel era.
German automobiles are competing in electric car development, while Toyota focuses on hydrogen-cell technology. The highlight of the CES 2015 was Toyota’s announcement that it would introduce over 6,000 hydrogen-cell-related patents in an attempt to match Tesla’s disclosure last year, which helped in the rapid expansion of electric cars. Tesla did not participate in the event, but its presence was felt across the automobile exhibition.
Like Tesla, Apple and Google made their presence known without the help of a banner or booth at the CES. Most cars now support Apple Carplay and Android Auto. In fact, it’s not something that carmakers welcome. As contact with consumers has shifted from hardware to software, automobile makers have tried hard to keep the automobile industry within the boundaries of mechanical engineering. But they could not go against the roaring tide. The digital revolution that began with a few programmers has changed the concept of the automobile in only two decades.
Ironically, guests at the CES could still see how even innovative companies that did not participate in the event - Apple, Google and Tesla - are changing the world. Their innovation is on a different level from the innovation that Samsung, LG and Hyundai Motor advocate.
If the latter wants to improve quality while competing within this category, the former must aspire to completely change the field. While Samsung and LG compete over the quality of television screens, Oculus allows people to wear goggles and experience television as virtual reality.
Oculus was recently acquired by Facebook for $2 billion.
The Las Vegas show proved that new fields are constantly created and convention overturned: A young Dutchman thought that a watch connected to a mobile phone would be useful while riding a bicycle. So he established Pebble, through a Kickstarter campaign, which is the leader in smart watches. The 3D printer, which appeared at last year’s CES, has become an everyday device. And drones, seemingly a toy for adults, are still mysterious.
Tesla has joined super brands like Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook. What is the world they present to the mankind?
What Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have in common is their resistance to the status quo. Hippy culture met the chip, and Silicon Valley was created. They protest against the older generation and overturn industrial structure and the hierarchy of the second industrial revolution based on fossil fuel. The digital revolution is merciless.
I witnessed the triumph of software and ideas on hardware and capital. The suits were overwhelmed by the youngsters in hoodies. If you don’t understand technology, your money and experience are useless. In the name of innovation, the young generation is driving out the old. The world runs on an operating system made by adolescent boys. They have enormous power but don’t know how to control it yet. They don’t understand the complexity of people and human history.
Yet, they are filled with the passion to test their power. The world is open to them, and a greedy race for progress has begun. The age of innovation may be as painful as puberty.
The author is the director of the Art Center Nabi.
by Roh Soh-yeong