At CES Offshoot in Amsterdam, Developers Grapple With Questions of Security and Play

The latest iteration of CES Unveiled highlighted social and logistical problems created by ubiquitous digital technology.

CES Unveiled Amsterdam
Courtesy Wanderwatch

Last week, CES Unveiled landed in Amsterdam for the first time. The international personal electronics exhibition, an offshoot of the annual Las Vegas fair, opened October 26 in the city’s historic Beurs van Berlage market hall. Although the market was once a hub of global exchange (it traces its roots to the Dutch East India Company), its transactions were often marked by patchiness, missed opportunities, and delays. With CES Unveiled, however, the hall is now host to instantaneous flows of data, from chips and sensors, to handheld devices and cloud-based information systems.

Judging from all that was showcased at the fair, the impulse toward frictionless reality may have reached a tipping point: Many of the products on display were specifically designed to address social and logistical problems created by ubiquitous digital technology—even if, paradoxically, they simply used other digital technologies to achieve that goal.

Take, for instance, Pico and Wanderwatch: the former presented a wifi-enabled wand with a light-up silicone top, incorporating proximity sensing and activation into games like hide-and-seek, while the latter is a children’s watch that lets the wearer take photos, draw, and play. Clearly, these devices are designed to encourage children to venture outdoors rather than hole up for hours flicking at tablets and screens. Yet, they concede that some amount of digital technology is unavoidable, and that designers should cater to the desires of both children and parents—in Wanderwatch’s case, to the extent of tracking your child’s location.

The start-up Sezame, meanwhile, addressed a different type of security. The app’s founders think that we should replace the plethora of online passwords we use with a single phone-based biometric authentication system. They recognize that, in an age of increasing large-scale hacks and the migration of more personal data (not to mention governmental and financial infrastructures) online, a string of characters is no match for the unique fingerprint.

Each new IoT device or smart app should prompt expert investigations into the security of their systems; after all, we divulge very sensitive personal information with the most casual digital encounter. But even granted these investigations, can we ever gain a sense of trust for these devices and apps? Taken as a whole, CES Unveiled revealed that developers and manufacturers, while taking a tentative step forward toward security, are still irresistibly drawn to technology’s ever-expanding powers of data collection and analysis.

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