Last year, CES 2023 generated about 118,000 attendees and 3,200 exhibitors. It was the biggest number for the big tech trade show in Las Vegas since 2020 and it far outstripped the COVID-racked event in January 2022.
This year, the CES 2024 show is expected to be bigger with perhaps 130,000 attendees and 3,500 exhibitors expected, said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, in an interview with GamesBeat. Exhibitor space is also expected to grow 10% to 2.4 million, up from 2.2 million for CES 2023.
And one of the drivers of the show is AI, which is expected to be infused in lots of productions and services being announced at the show. Shapiro said the CES Innovation Awards program saw a 40%-plus jump in applications for CES 2024. Among this year’s features: The Goodyear blimp will show up.
Sharpiro is always a champion for innovation and a critic of government intervention. He published an op-ed piece recently here where he worried about the fading competitive edge of the U.S. in technology. We talked about that and more.
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Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Gary Shapiro: We’re very excited. All the indicators and signs are pointing in a good direction. We focus CES on innovation. The pieces are coming together bigger than they ever have. We have more innovations entries by about 40%. It seems like more excitement. Incredibly strong pre-registration. A lot of numbers are up from last year. We feel great.
VentureBeat: Is that more people coming to Eureka Park, then? More startups?
Shapiro: Last year we said more than 1,000. We’re saying more than 1,000 this year as well. It’s one of those where we don’t give an accurate number until after the show. It’s one of the last ones we sign up people for, and we see who shows up. But it’s definitely more than 1,000.
VentureBeat: What was attendance last year?
Shapiro: It was 118,000 and change. This year, we don’t know until the show is until the audit comes in. But we’re projecting–our goal is 130,000. We have strong pre-registration, especially internationally, and all the categories are strong. We’re a bit away from the start of the year, which is something we’ve been waiting for for years. It gives us some breathing room. We’re away from the weekend, which we like, because we’re not competing for hotel rooms in Las Vegas with the regular weekend crowd. That traffic is important to us.
But what really counts is the people showing up with innovative products. If you look at some of our speakers, we have a pretty blockbuster group speaking on important issues.
VentureBeat: The most obvious topic is AI. It’s bigger than ever this year.
Shapiro: Yes, definitely. It’s the top of the list in terms of discussion. How companies will exhibit that, we’ll discover when we get there. But it’s definitely playing a major role. It’s a key ingredient in just about everything from health care to mobility. That’s important.
The other big thing–some of these things, I don’t know how visible they are in each exhibit. But one we’re particularly looking forward to–last time we talked a year ago I was talking about how we had this thing with the United Nations. They had seven human securities or human rights. We talked about the right to health care, to food, to clean air and water, to community. They added, at our request, an eighth, which is the right to technology. The UN will be bigger than ever. Their CTO will be speaking. We’re pretty jazzed about that. It’s consistent with our overall theme about sustainability and innovation solving the world’s biggest problems. That’s what we’ll see throughout CES.
VentureBeat: What was the square footage and the number of exhibitors last year?
Shapiro: Square footage ended up a little under 2.2 million. We’re not done yet this year and we’re over 2.4 million. I know we’re over 10 percent growth in our footprint. I’d have to look up an exact number for exhibitors last year, but it was about 3,500, and that’s what we’re projecting this year as well, around that. That number fluctuates, even in the next two weeks. Sometimes companies can’t get it together. Statistically we have some no-shows and others add on at the last minute. Afterward we do an independent audit, and we’ll issue something in the spring with the numbers – exhibit space, number of exhibitors, number of attendees, breakdown by country, things like that.
VentureBeat: What do you see as far as the things AI companies need to work out before they really take off? The things that still need to be addressed in some way, whether with the government, with policy, with the concerns people have about the technology and what it could mean to society.
Shapiro: This will definitely be a big discussion. A little over a year ago OpenAI was introduced to the public. But since then, obviously, Google and others have come forward. Microsoft just announced that they’re going to be working with AFL-CIO, I believe, on AI and its effect on jobs. There are a lot of issues to unravel. One is the impact on jobs. Another is how it can be used ethically and safely. Another is how we could benefit as a society. We’ll talk about a lot of these issues at CES.
We’ll see a lot of discussion about what companies are doing, but we also have a public policy track to talk about AI and the government’s role. I had the privilege of speaking last month to the Senate Majority Leader. There was something just published on Friday at Real Clear Markets. I talked about AI and how there’s competition between countries and how they approach it. Generally, I applaud the Senate there.
The positive there is that Congress, especially the Senate, is doing a series of listening sessions. I was part of one. It was the first time I was in a room with the heads of the trial lawyers’ association and unions and others talking about these big issues. They’re being very thoughtful. They recognize there’s a balance between promoting innovation and providing guardrails so that businesses know what they can and can’t do. It’s not this irresponsible call for a six-month ban that’s impossible to enforce. We opposed that.
Responsible companies are looking for ways to use AI to benefit whatever they do in their companies – to do it better, to do it more efficiently, to free up people for other jobs, to be safer, to get to solutions quicker. I was at a meeting a few months ago of Detroit-area CIOs. They were all universally enthusiastic about AI. They’re all using it to get things done in a matter of hours or days when it used to take weeks or months. Most companies in the country that are thinking about this are pretty jazzed about it.
How that translates to CES, I look to see products that use AI in services and things like that to just do things better and quicker, to get to solutions for some of the problems of mankind quicker.
VentureBeat: Aside from AI, what else do you see as trending topics or trending exhibit areas of the show?
Shapiro: Well, obviously transportation is big. The footprint of the mobility section is much bigger than last year, which was bigger than the year before. We’re approaching 500,000 square feet for mobility. In 2020 we were at 300,000. In 2023 we were at 416,000. We have a 61% increase in vehicle tech exhibits from 2020. You’ve been to the newer west hall. It’s totally full. There’s spillover outside to other areas of the show, to the central hall. We’re seeing a lot there not only in terms of traditional, like Honda announcing electric vehicles. A number of car companies are doing different things. There are other forms of mobility, obviously, everything from electric scooters to drones that carry people. Someone’s doing a demonstration there. We have the Goodyear Blimp for the first time.
Another big area is health care technology. It’s continuing to be a very strong area of the show. We have a lot of major brands and speakers there as well. We have our first dedicated keynote for health care, from Elevance. We have our first keynote speaker from the video game industry. The CEO of L’Oréal will be speaking. That’s pretty cool for us. We have another European company, the CEO of Siemens for the first time. Qualcomm’s CEO will be back. Wal-Mart’s CEO will be back. They had a keynote at our 2021 digital event. We’ll have a big activation with Wal-Mart on the floor.
VentureBeat: Do you see particular themes emerging from the keynote group?
Shapiro: There’s two big themes. One is sustainability. Everyone wants to talk about that. That’s one of the tying themes for the keynotes. Another is just innovation generally. We have a 40% increase in entrants for the innovation contest. It’s a pretty respected thing we do. We get several thousand entries. Only a relatively small percentage get to be award winners.
VentureBeat: Are there areas of tech where you want to see the most advancement or the most fresh approaches?
Shapiro: Our foundation focuses on technology for older people and people with disabilities. It’s helped push the show in that direction. We have a meeting of the disabilities community before the show in Las Vegas, and if you walk around the show, there’s a number of disabled people who are very visible. They help evaluate the show. They run the show. They talk about disability products. We have an innovations award category now. We have an entrepreneurial contest for products for people with disabilities. My wife, as a doctor who deals with blindness, is a judge for it. Our thinking is, everyone is disabled, or they will be disabled.
The head of the AARP is speaking again. We have a partnership with the AARP. Being someone who’s now officially classified as a senior, I’m pretty aware. It’s gratifying to see how many products are designed with seniors in mind. It’s a selling point. A lot of products use AI, for example to monitor people. It’s a particular interest of Corie Barry at Best Buy. Aging in place and health care technology, this is a passion of hers. I don’t think it’s a secret. When she became CEO, one of the first things she did was acquire a healthcare company. She’s spoken about her personal experience with her own mother. It’s a passion issue for her, and she’s not alone. A lot of us have or had older parents. You want to take care of them, but you’re remote.
Related to that issue is the issue of healthcare availability. It’s just a fact that these days we’ve limited the number of doctors we train to a fixed number for the last two decades, but we have a bigger population, especially a bigger aging population. What’s the safety valve there? Some of it is doctors coming from overseas. But another is using technology to do remote monitoring. Obviously, COVID helped with telehealth. We have a bunch of companies focused on that. We have a lot of doctors engaged with us as an organization, but also, from a healthcare technology perspective–we’ve become a center for a lot of healthcare interests, from the providers to the hospitals to the insurance companies to the tech companies. We’ve been the centerpiece.
We have more than 20 standards in healthcare now, and even intersecting with AI. We’ve created definitions. We’ve defined sleep. We’ve defined steps. The industry can work together and set standards. Some of it is just best practices around things like privacy. We’ve done that for wearables. Some of it is advocacy. We’re trying to do it for all privacy, so we can move things along and everyone has the same expectations on a national basis. Any startup can come in and understand the rules without having a barrier to entry around dealing with state and local rules that are different everywhere.
Accessibility, as we call it, is very important to us in a whole range of ways. There’s a journalist who comes to us from Canada. He’s mostly disabled in terms of mobility. He goes around in–he’s almost laying down on a platform. He and his partner cover the show and see things that are applied. Stevie Wonder often comes to CES and speaks as someone who’s visually impaired. There are lots of different kinds of tech for disability. Between our health care technology, our focus on disability and awareness, it’s definitely a big investment for us, but it’s an important thing for our society.
VentureBeat: Are there tech issues that you think will be fodder for a lot of conversation with government people coming?
Shapiro: We have a global array of people coming. We’ve done some travel to Asia and Europe in the past year. We have a cabinet minister from France, senior ministers from the Netherlands, top people from Korea. We have the mayor of Seoul and the governor of their largest jurisdiction. We obviously have hundreds of policy makers from around the U.S. – state legislators, congressmen, senators, agency heads, commissioners from places like the FTC, the FCC, the CPSC. There’s a whole range of policy issues. We have a whole separate policy track at the show.
What the policy makers get out of it is they see the real world. They see the entrepreneurial focus, the competition, the possibility and promise, and the role that they play. They usually end up wanting to help innovation. But we’re not anti-government or anti-rules. We just want to make sure we know what the guardrails are, and that they don’t unnecessarily discourage innovation. That’s something we often struggle with.
VentureBeat: Is there also some antitrust enforcement that you appreciate?
Shapiro: Oh, we totally appreciate antitrust enforcement. We are, by definition, a group of competitors. As an entity we’re very sensitive. We have to be an industry that is, for the most part, lowering prices rather than raising them. TV sets are a great example. We’re deflationary in many of our products, if not all. Some products follow the inflation curve. But we stay out of pricing discussions.
In terms of antitrust, we’re very concerned as an organization with the position the U.S. has taken around essentially barring big companies from buying smaller ones. Smaller companies make up 80% of our membership. They’re in agreement with our larger companies that the most absurd thing our government could do is discourage big companies from buying small ones. Startup capital comes because people think they have an exit, and the biggest exit by far is acquisition. You can go public or grow intrinsically, but that’s less likely than being acquired.
Everybody wants startup capital. They want investment. We’re united around that. Our most fervent members are the VCs and startups and others who believe this administration is clueless when it comes to understanding how the free market works and what’s best for the consumer. Changing the consumer welfare standard to protect existing competitors is crazy. Even crazier is going to Europe and telling antitrust officials how they can sue American companies.
We’re beside ourselves with how the Biden administration is anti-innovation and attacking innovations not only directly in court–by the way, of those that have gone through diversion, almost every one of them, the Biden administration has lost the court case. Federal judges, whether Democratic or Republican appointees, are united in interpreting the law as it was originally intended, which favors consumer welfare. But they have successfully discouraged a lot of acquisitions by threatening to sue.
VentureBeat: It’s interesting to see the contrast between the U.S. and Europe when it comes to things like legislation to force platforms to stay open or be more open. The Digital Markets Act is something I think of in particular.
Shapiro: The Digital Markets Act, its impact has yet to be seen. The hope is that it’s more like the law in Europe that determined opting out for privacy purposes and things like that, the gathering of consumer information, which has become essentially a time tax on every user of any website in Europe. It caused a lot of smaller companies to go out of business. But at least what Europe did is they have a pan-European law. Any startup, any big company can follow the law and add in the three clicks you have to do to determine your cookies preferences and move on to the website.
The United States, we don’t have that. We don’t have a federal law. The technology industry law is united and saying we need a federal law. It matters where it is. Giving private lawyers the ability to bring more lawsuits isn’t something that anyone wants. But we need a law in the United States.
In general, what we see with the Digital Markets Act is that bigger companies can benefit from that. It’s a minor hassle. It will be exclusionary to smaller companies that want to come up with innovative AI and other solutions. That’s something we’re concerned about. Europe, as much as we love Europe, and there are some great pockets of innovation–on a per-capita basis there are dramatically fewer unicorns in Europe. In large part that’s because they put privacy way above innovation. You compare that to China, which puts innovation way above privacy. They have enormous data sets for AI, and they definitely have a competitive advantage because of it.
It’s like Goldilocks. We want to make sure the porridge is just right in the United States. We need a law that balances the need for privacy, which we value as a human right, but remains reasonable about it. It depends on the situation. In a life and death situation, privacy becomes less important than saving lives. Whereas in Europe, they go beyond. They even have the right to be forgotten. You can get your name off Google searches. The U.S. values historical accuracy and facts. We have a different balance.
As I told several Senators when we had these sessions, the U.S. has always gotten it right in terms of focusing on innovation and balancing against competing interests. We’ve never really stopped innovation. It goes back to the invention and legality of the VCR and other recording technologies, and then the internet and so many other things. We’ve had policies in the United States that encourage innovation, encourage us to be a leader, encourage capital formation. We don’t mind that people get rich from amazing inventions. There’s not this great resentment toward people like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or even Jeff Bezos. They do things. They advance. They create great things that people love.
Other countries don’t have the same freedoms or incentive structure. We have a different perspective, and in my view, it’s been the right perspective, because we’re still the most innovative country in the world by almost every measure. Whether it’s patents or unicorns or whatever measure you want to use for innovation.
VentureBeat: It’s interesting that you have this global perspective. Technology in general seems to want globalism. It’s shocking how geopolitical a world we still have, though. Are there things that make you think that we’re going to have this for a very long time to come? Are companies going to have to deal with geopolitics for good?
Shapiro: There are several good questions you raise. In the last couple of decades, the world feels like it’s gotten more divided. The United States feels like we’ve gotten more divided, with more people in different opposing corners. That affects companies’ decision-making in a number of ways. The China situation is particularly sensitive. I’m glad to see that President Biden and President Xi have at least gotten together and talked to each other. When people talk together, treat together, the world is more positive. Certainly, it’s better than just six or eight months ago, when there was talk about cutting off China totally.
There are concerns about China and Taiwan that aren’t going away. We commissioned Kearney to look at the situation last year. The thing we’re advocating, and their research fully supports this, is that we should be looking at trading with our partners, our friends, our treaty allies. Canada, Mexico, Europe, Japan, Korea, Australia, and others. We even have trade relations with Vietnam. We should be looking at the things we want to do which are especially critical to our future from a security and defense point of view, critical to our infrastructure, and making sure we have alternative sources of supply. It’s a very long report. It’s publicly available. But there’s a lot of data saying that we can’t just flip a switch and expect these things to be manufactured in the U.S. in the next 10 years. That’s not going to happen.
Even just going into some of the chip production, with the CHIPS act, it’s very problematic getting the skills we need, the people we need. Some of the things the Biden administration has thrown in there, like having child care mandated–all these things were pretty surprising to industry, and not very welcome. It’s so difficult to get the type of manufacturing skills we need and attract the manufacturing workforce, which we don’t have right now. It’s a skilled workforce, more than you would expect. This is a gradual process and we want to do it right.
In terms of the world, whether it’s Russia and Ukraine or the Middle East situation, these are definitely challenges, which is why we’re even more hopeful that our relationship with the United Nations—we can focus on making the world better and solving fundamental problems. If people have health care, food, clean air, clean water, some of the biggest problems we’re talking about go away. But there is a fundamental rift in the world between those that value the individual and those that value, in a sense, the greater good.
What we see with China, there’s definitely been a shift toward focusing on the overall country rather than the individual, on privacy and rights. The freedoms we expect as Americans, whether it’s freedom of religion, of association, the ability to express your views, to marry who you want, all these freedoms we take for granted because they’re embedded in our Constitution—there’s a huge difference there. That’s playing out in the technology world right now with things like the data sets you need for AI, the type of health care we provide.
The U.S. always seems to eventually do the right thing, even if it’s after we’ve tried everything else. The American democracy is not pretty, but ultimately we seem to end up in the right place. It’s part of my job to make sure that innovation is one of the foremost considerations we have. American ingenuity, innovation, culture—we try to solve problems. We try to be flexible. We try to respect each other’s human rights. We try to balance that out.
VentureBeat: It’s always interesting to see the tech startups addressing problems that could help save the world. Things like pulling fresh water out of the air at Zero Mass Water.
Shapiro: I was in Europe meeting with the new head of the EU competition thing last month. I was talking about our board and the guy who leads it. He says, “You mean Carmichael Roberts? You know him?” Well, yeah. He’s kind of my boss. He’s the chairman of our board. He says, “Bill Gates was sitting in the chair you’re sitting in, and he was telling me all about Carmichael Roberts. Yeah, that’s my guy.
We have this incredible volunteer leadership that guides us. If you look at the players on our board, it’s just a wealth of talent. They’re all volunteers. We’re very blessed.
VentureBeat: What do you think about the year ahead, how the world economy looks and how that could affect the tech markets? Do you see some brightness or more things to worry about?
Shapiro: Like everyone I’m worried about global conflicts. Being Jewish, this last one has hit home in a way that nothing has before for me. There’s a lot of introspection involved around various things around the world. The discussions are sometimes healthy. I’m an optimist. I believe that interest rates seem to have peaked. I’m hopeful there. I was with a friend from the mortgage industry last night. He was telling me that he’s still moving houses along. People are buying and investing. When I think about my first mortgage being 11%, 6% doesn’t sound so bad.
Interest rates are a factor. Inflation is a factor. Global conflict is a factor. But we’re an industry that’s making a difference in progress and the human condition – people’s health, their water, the air they breathe. I’m optimistic in a general sense. When you get caught in a moment, when you look at the presidential campaign choices and other things, it’s easy to get caught up. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the presidential discussions and other things we’re seeing. I’d like to see some conflicts resolved.
But overall, in the long term, I’m optimistic because of innovation and technology solving the world’s problems. That’s why I wake up every day. My job is to make sure innovation can flourish. If government does something harmful, if people screw up, if I don’t do my job right, we’ll be choking off our potential. That’s what CES is about. That’s what the CTA is about. My job is supporting innovation, and CES is part of it. CES is looking fabulous. We have a plethora of innovations that will make life better for people. I’m pretty jazzed up about the next few weeks.
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