Sign of the Times

As I write this, I'm sitting at Gate 7 in the JetBlue terminal at JFK International Airport, awaiting my flight home after attending the first-ever CEA Line Shows, held June 10 and 11 across the street from the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan. I made the long trip to New York because I wanted to support the concept embodied by the event and encourage it to grow next year.

Hosted by the Consumer Electronics Association (the organization that puts on CES in January) and trade-publisher Napco, the idea behind the CEA Line Shows is to provide a venue in which consumer-electronics manufacturers can present their spring/summer "line shows" at the same time rather than separately at different times and locations. I've gone to these separate and often lavish line shows for many years, which are great fun, but they have always seemed very time-inefficient and cost-ineffective. These days, of course, few if any companies can afford to host their own line shows, so combining them into a "mini CES" seems like an idea whose time has come.

Over 40 companies participated in the event this year, but only four were of direct interest to UAV and Home Theater—Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Monster Cable, and Digeo, makers of the Moxi HD DVR—and you can read my reports about what they announced on both sites. (I didn't report on Digeo, which was showing nothing that HT editor Shane Buettner didn't cover in his Moxi review.) Mits and Monster held press conferences the first day, and Toshiba was scheduled to do the same, but it was cancelled at the last minute because the company decided the announcement it had intended to make was premature.

Another interesting component of the CEA Line Shows was called Digital Downtown, a series of educational presentations by representatives from various companies and other industry big-wigs. Billed as a mid-year "reality check," the conference program covered the gamut from acoustics to business models to smartphones to mobile TV to 3D technology to women in CE to the DTV transition and more.

But for me—and, I suspect, for most attendees—the most interesting speaker was Aneesh Chopra (pictured above), the newly confirmed and first-ever Chief Technology Officer of the United States. Even though he's only been on the job for two weeks—he doesn't even have business cards yet—Chopra outlined four conceptual pillars that will guide his efforts:

1. Promote economic growth through technological innovation;

2. Advance the President's priorities through innovative platforms;

3. Deliver a reliable and secure digital infrastructure;

4. Adhere to the President's open-government initiative.

Chopra pointed out that, in a recent study of 40 countries conducted by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation using 25 indicators, the US ranked number 6 overall and dead last in technological innovation. Clearly, he said, that must change if we are to turn our economy around and regain our place as the world's technological leader.

He also emphasized that innovation must not stem exclusively from a profit motive. As an example, Chopra cited Google, which reserves 20 percent of its engineers' time to experiment in ways that might not have economic benefit but rather societal benefit.

Of course, innovation takes money, and Chopra said that most of it won't come from the government. The current stimulus package does include $7 billion for Internet infrastructure, but hundreds of billions of dollars will be needed over the next few years, and the National Broadband Initiative is based on the premise that most of it will come from the private sector.

Another critical component to revitalizing America's technological leadership is education. According to Chopra, the higher-education attainment ratio—a measure of students who attain at least a 2-year college degree—is about 40 percent in the US, and it has remained relatively stagnant over the last decade. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world has caught up with or even surpassed this figure.

Regarding his fourth pillar—governmental transparency—Chopra will define clear goals and timelines and establish a scorecard for himself, which he will post online so Americans can grade his performance.

All in all, the CEA Line Shows was a big success, especially for an initial effort. I urge other manufacturers of home-theater products to sign up for next year—you'll save loads of money compared to putting on an individual line show, and you'll save journalists loads of time, a commodity in very short supply these days. It's a win-win in an otherwise lose-lose economy.