By Derek Holt, President, K4Connect: January 23, 2017

For those that have ever been to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), you tend to know what to expect.   Each year 175K people from all over the globe descend upon an often very cold Las Vegas ready to present or experience the newest innovations and products that, in many ways, provide us all a glimpse into what the future could hold.  Each year I find myself torn with both excitement and dread for what I know will be an inspiring, yet tiring week.  This year however, I must say I left the show generally disappointed and a bit frustrated.

My early years at CES were typical of most attendees. I spent time at CES in the context of enterprise technology during my years at IBM and subsequently around startups associated with my tenure at Startup America, where we partnered with CTA (Center for Technology & Aging) to establish and scale the earliest version of CES’s startuphub Eureka Park.  This year I came to Las Vegas with a different focus given my role as President of K4Connect, a technology company which create solutions for seniors and individuals living with disabilities.   At K4Connect we integrate the latest technologies including smart home, connected wellness and social engagement (often originally designed for millennials and hobbyists) into a single, easy-to-use and responsive system for the clients we serve. We spend each day at K4 thinking about new ways that technology can improve the lives of the 1.5B people in the world that are over the age of 65 or  living with a disability, helping make their lives “simpler, healthier and happier.”  Yet after spending 4 days walking more than 35 miles (at least according to my activity tracker) at the world’s largest technology gathering,  I left extremely worried that, in many cases, some of the most brilliant technologists in the world are focusing their efforts on the wrong things.

I would submit that not enough of my fellow technologists are paying attention to how technology can improve the lives of what is ultimately the fastest growing demographic globally.  All too often it was clear that some of the most innovative companies in the world don’t consider these demographics in their design or development processes and surely don’t apply their innovation prowess for those that would often stand to benefit the most.  That’s not to say there wasn’t innovation at CES 2017…to the contrary innovation was everywhere.   I was frankly blown away by the progress around autonomous vehicles, connected wellness, robotics, smart assistants and much more.  The problem I experienced was that nearly all of these solutions focused on the next generation, not the previous generation of consumers.

Every booth was full of young marketing/sales representatives, I’m 37 and to be honest, I felt old!  Nearly all of the advertising content focused on how a given technology would improve the lives of a millennial living in some hip urban neighborhood.  Seniors and individuals living with disabilities were nowhere to be found and yet they are the ones, I would argue, who can benefit most from nearly every one of these technologies. Ok, that’s not completely true, I did chat with a dozen or so companies, in addition to the CTA Foundation, that serve these demographics, but that’s out of more than 2,700 exhibitors, and endless keynotes and panels.   For our elders and individuals living with disabilities, smart devices, automation, and quantified wellness are not nice-to-haves or novelties, but rather necessities that provide the ultimate utility. When designed in both form and function for these demographics, many of these same devices and technologies can truly improve lives and, in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about.

As we kick off a new year, I’d like to issue a challenge to startup founders, technologists and other innovators out there…..let’s take a hard look at how the technologies we build can improve the lives of everyone, not just the next generation.   Let’s work on big and sometimes uncomfortable problems, not just the easy ones.  Let’s build a future where technology truly improves the lives for those who can benefit the most.   Let’s focus on utility, not novelty.   Let’s use our talents, capital and time to build a future where technology empowers and makes life simpler, healthier and happier for everyone.  I know at K4Connect we plan to….