The Big Interview at CES ft. Gary Shapiro and Kaushal Nevrekar - Exhibit Tech
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The Big Interview at CES ft. Gary Shapiro and Kaushal Nevrekar

CES is the heart of innovation, where technology titans converge to shape the future! Like every year, we dived into the dynamic world of tech at CES and got the opportunity to interview Gary Shapiro, the visionary President of the Consumer Technology Association, and Kaushal Nevrekar, the maestro orchestrating tech brilliance at Reliance Digital Retail Ltd. North India. So, let’s get organised for a riveting conversation as these industry leaders unravel insights, trends, and the pulse of the ever-evolving tech landscape.


Ramesh: Could you provide an overview of the scale of CES 2024?

Gary: CES 2024 experienced remarkable growth, particularly in the aftermath of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We witnessed substantial expansion across all metrics, achieving double-digit growth. To put this into perspective, the event covered an expansive 2.5 million square feet of exhibit space, equivalent to approximately 30 American football fields. In comparison, last year’s exhibit space was 2.28 million square feet, reflecting an increase of 300,000 square feet. The total attendance surpassed 130,000, with one-third of the participants hailing from international locations.


Ramesh: What notable changes have occurred since the previous year?

Gary: The most significant evolution lies in the transformation of CES from solely a consumer technology showcase to a substantial business-to-business event, constituting approximately 30 to 40% of its scope. This shift is evident in the participation of key industry players but non-traditional brands, such as L’Oreal, Hyundai, and Siemens, that are now prominently featured on the exhibition floor. The overarching theme of sustainability permeates the event, with companies actively aligning themselves with the sustainability movement. This emphasis extends beyond the presentation of innovative products, including a commitment to environmentally responsible practices, reflecting a dual focus on product excellence and sustainability footprint.


Ramesh: What stands out as the most groundbreaking technology you’ve encountered at CES 2024?

Gary: CES 2024 showcased an array of innovative solutions addressing critical challenges in healthcare and technology. The global shortage of doctors, nurses, and technicians has prompted a shift towards remote healthcare. COVID-19 underscored the feasibility of conducting medical consultations, diagnoses, and even treatments remotely. This capability enables individuals to gauge the urgency of seeking emergency assistance. With people living longer, there’s a growing emphasis on caring for individuals in their homes. Families can remotely monitor their loved ones, ensuring medication adherence and detecting potential falls through specialised devices. In mobility, CES, recognised as the world’s largest auto show, featured over 500 companies presenting not only automotive products but also advancements in air taxis, flying devices, electric drones, boats, and agricultural aids.


Ramesh: Kaushal, what technological innovation has impressed you the most at CES this year?

Kaushal: The most captivating technologies contribute to an improved quality of life. This includes transparent screens that cater to both B2B and B2C needs, sensors enhancing driving capabilities beyond human perception, and the integration of AI into various aspects of daily life. Our chairman recently highlighted AI as an all-encompassing force, making innovative products even smarter. Walking the exhibition floor has been a phenomenal experience, witnessing the continuous evolution of technology. There’s still much to explore and discover.


Ramesh: How do you envision technology influencing retail for consumers?

Kaushal: While our previous discussion focused on the impact of technology on consumers (B2C), it’s equally important to consider its role in enhancing the productivity of retail spaces. Being at the forefront of driving technology in India, we leverage big data and AI to optimise store layouts. Understanding consumer behaviour—such as their path within the store, time spent, and product preferences—enables us to create a more productive and personalised shopping experience. We allocate budgets annually to make our stores technologically oriented, with big data playing a central role. Robotics, once viewed as tools for task automation, are now seen as companions aiding decision-making and even exhibiting emotional elements. This evolution positions them not just as automation tools but as consumer products, a trend we hope to see on our shelves.


Ramesh: Which companies should we be closely following this year?

Gary: With a plethora of companies at CES, it’s akin to having 3000 children, and selecting standout ones can be challenging. However, keep an eye on those demonstrating agility in reaching the market swiftly. Companies focusing on generative AI are particularly noteworthy for their potential impact. Additionally, those capable of pivoting quickly and halting initiatives that prove ineffective are likely to stand out. I was particularly impressed by Walmart’s CEO, who shared insights into their innovative use of apps. By allowing consumers to showcase clothing options to friends, receive feedback, and virtually try on different choices, Walmart seamlessly integrates in-store and at-home shopping experiences. This offers consumers choices and honest feedback, reducing the likelihood of product returns—a prevalent issue in the United States. Another significant trend I observed on the floor addresses the challenge of retail theft. Numerous solutions aim to identify and prevent theft while preserving shoppers’ privacy, a critical concern in declining retail profitability worldwide due to theft issues.


Ramesh: With the enhanced 5G and broadband penetration in India, how is Reliance Digital capitalising on this technological wave?

Kaushal: Gaming has seen a remarkable surge in India, aligning with our nationwide 4G and 5G deployment, which is the fastest in the country. The demand for gaming PCs has risen significantly as people upgrade their systems. With the advent of a pan-India 5G network, gaming is poised to become a critical application. Reliance Digital is strategically positioning itself as the go-to destination for all things gaming, encompassing console and desktop gaming, laptop gaming, and mobile gaming.


Ramesh: Gary, do you perceive a significant global trend in gaming, with sustained growth?

Gary: Gaming remains robust, occasionally experiencing cyclical shifts with the introduction of new platforms. Notably, there’s a noticeable shift towards mobility, encompassing smartphones, tablets, desktops, and laptops. Interestingly, the TV set has regained prominence due to its affordability, serving as a central hub for streaming content and fostering greater sharing and interactivity among users, both in-person and online.


Ramesh: So, Sony has introduced Affila in partnership with Honda, Xiaomi has entered the automotive market, and Apple is actively developing a car. Is CES instrumental in propelling these brands into the automotive industry?

Gary: Well, I wouldn’t say we are solely responsible. Our role is to act as a catalyst in the marketplace for driving efficient innovation. The landscape has evolved in recent years, not just in technology but also in business. Success in business now hinges on collaboration and partnerships. The paradigm shift requires the ability to work in teams, across diverse cultures, and with partners, fostering win-win situations. This shift is what CES embodies. With over 4,000 exhibitors, the event becomes a hub where deals are struck and intellectual property is shared. No single entity possesses all the ideas; innovation often arises from the convergence of diverse technologies and ideas. In other noteworthy developments, chip companies are making significant strides, particularly in advanced chips that power various applications. We’re witnessing advancements in quantum computing, robotics, and the pervasive influence of 5G technology, enabling a spectrum of applications from cryptocurrency to cybersecurity. The spotlight at the show is on generative artificial intelligence, a transformative force that learns about individuals, shaping a meaningful synthesis of information. This serves as a productivity tool and factory enhancement and propels advancements in healthcare and personalised medicine. The potential to discern what works based on individual genetic code, biology, location, gender, and life experiences, including dietary habits, is revolutionary. Imagine your car seat alerting you to potential health issues and suggesting preventive measures like taking vitamin B12 or recommending vaccinations.


Ramesh: Do you anticipate a significant disruption in the automotive space, particularly with tech companies like Apple, Vivo, Oppo, and Samsung entering the market with a focus on all-electric cars?

Gary: That’s indeed an intriguing question. I see significant disruption, particularly as we move towards self-driving cars, transforming the car environment into a versatile space, be it an office, an entertainment hub, or even a place for relaxation during commutes. This shift not only alleviates pressure on the healthcare system but also empowers the elderly and individuals with disabilities. While the global shift towards electric cars is undeniable, there may be challenges ahead. First, there’s a reliance on essential elements with limited availability, often tied to China. Second, concerns arise about the source of electricity for electric cars, as it frequently relies on fossil fuels. Despite the growing focus on solar and wind power, coal-burning plants continue to be constructed in China. Although electric cars are undoubtedly part of the future, I believe a hybrid approach might gain popularity, especially in regions like the United States, where concerns about charging infrastructure and expensive repairs persist. Challenges include issues with fires and battery maintenance, making it imperative to address these aspects as we progress, considering the current limitations in electricity supply and charging infrastructure.


Ramesh: If you had to identify a technology poised for disruption in 2024, what would it be?

Kaushal: I’ll opt for the clichéd choice of AI. It continues to evolve, enhancing smart products across various domains. Whether it’s improving driving experiences, refining picture viewing on transparent LEDs, or personalising audio preferences, AI’s impact is pervasive.

Gary: I concur with the emphasis on AI, specifically generative AI. Its transformative nature is already evident, as demonstrated by CIOs in a major American city who shared their excitement. The rapid generation of reports in two hours instead of three months, the ability to pivot swiftly, and the leveraging of customer information for unprecedented outcomes showcase the transformational power of generative AI. I’ve encountered many hyped trends over the years, such as the Metaverse or 3D TV, but I am genuinely enthusiastic about artificial intelligence. I believe it will fundamentally change the world.


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