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Not all robots look scary. Buddy comes from France. Photo: Nigel Cameron CES 2018

March of the (sometimes cute) machines

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has been running for half a century. It keeps getting bigger – more than 180,000 people here this time, and 4,000 exhibitors. But it also keeps shifting.

In this pre-show interview Gary Shapiro discusses some of the shifts. He’s head honcho of the Consumer Technology Association which runs this vast event, and divides his time between leading their industry effort in Washington, DC and serving as ringmaster for the world’s top tech trade show.

What’s interesting above all is how pervasive the machines are becoming. In the old days we had gizmos, useful or not. Now gizmo tech is taking over huge slices of our lives. Shapiro notes the growing emphasis this time around on “smart cities” – and the decision of the U.S. auto industry to build a big presence here. Alexa is just the start – your home and your community are being turned into gizmos all of their own. And that car you just bought already contains around a hundred million lines of code: it’s a powerful computer with wheels.

Buddy, sweet toy-like thing that he/she/it looks, is one of a slew of robots being launched or upgraded this week. Apparently it/he/she can chat with your kids, keep an eye on your elderly parents, and order stuff from Amazon. Though you can’t ask Alexa to order a Buddy quite yet; they’re fine-tuning the latest cute version.