IoT & Killer Robots

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) once again was a festival of promises of the future – everything connected, blockchain, AI, autonomous vehicles, octocopters, the Property Brothers – you name it. The future finally is here in whatever size and color that you like – for the right price. The only thing missing is the ability of the Las Vegas Convention Center to keep water out of the venue when it rains!

CES always has its share of questionable connected devices (lead-weighted & pricey connected hula hoop anyone?) and crossover announcements (Kodak cryptocurrency for photographers). There is a much larger unspoken theme that touches everything at the show, the concepts of digital transformation and cultural transformation.

Honda was showing off a series of robots that showcased empathy with anthropomorphic interactions. The presenter demonstrated a wide variety of cute interactions with robot helpers. A friend summed it up by stating that in Japan, people come to think of robots as family and even give them hugs. In the US, we think of the “terminator” scenario – the robots are going to rise up and try to kill us someday!

Which brings us to the concept of digital transformation vs cultural transformation. Much of IoT can be considered a tool that supports digital transformation. IoT is all about connecting the analog with the digital world, and this connection is defined by the data that is enabled by IoT.

IoT is hard because there is so much friction around building the hardware and software stack, along with connectivity to even start a small deployment, let alone millions of devices. One must have a strong constitution to make a bet of tens of millions of dollars before fully understanding the project’s impact.

Cultural transformation is even harder. Those of us that are immersed in the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas or who work in Silicon Valley can fall into the trap of believing the whole world is made of voice assistants, drones and VR. The challenges of cultural transformation can be much harder as witnessed here: (

We are talking about an industry where there will be hundreds of devices for every person. The data and new business models will be a huge shock to businesses and consumers alike. Most businesses logically understand this, but they are completely unprepared to make the cultural jump.

Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975 and Nokia knew that Smartphones were the future when they had a 66% Symbian market share (just ten years ago!). The American Enterprise Institute noted that 88% of the Fortune 500 companies from 1955 were gone in 2014. These companies had resources, distribution channels and brand recognition that most organizations could never dream of.

I would argue that cultural transformation killed many more companies than digital transformation. The organizations simply could not adapt to the pace of the future.

I have no question that most of the cool things that we see at CES will be integrated into all our lives over the coming years. I do doubt that we really understand the cultural transformation involved when integrating voice assistants and robots into many aspects of everyday life.

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