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This CES Was Different, In The Best Way Possible

Having had a few days to recover from the bustle of 170,000 other technology gawkers at International CES, my mind keeps going back to the thought that this year’s show stood out above those of recent years.

Talking to fellow reporters, there was agreement that there was a marked decline in flash at the major keynotes — no surprise Tom Hanks or Bill Clinton cameos — but a noticeable ratcheting up of substance.

Samsung’s CEO, B.K. Yoon, for instance, eschewed the usual Vanna White-style product reveals and instead gave an impassioned speech on how the Internet of Things will lead us to live healthier, more productive lives, but only if technology companies work together to make sure the devices they produce are interoperable.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich outlined a world of gesture control that will break the mold of how we interact with computers and objects, and how that kind of technology can be used to better the lives of the visually impaired. For good measure, he put $300 million of Intel’s money into recruiting women and underrepresented minorities to the technology sector, and tied his compensation package to the results.

Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche spoke of a revolution in the transportation industry, of making urban areas safer and easier to navigate as populations continue to rise. The driverless Mercedes he unveiled was a luxury item for sure, but the technology driving it has the potential to solve transportation challenges for underdeveloped areas of the world.

It was all very heady stuff and it was refreshing. When the forces of technology get behind a problem, it often gets solved, and hearing today’s technology leaders addressing issues of substance — bettering lives, improving access to technology for all, working in concert to tackle economic inequality, eliminating traffic deaths, and opening up new possibilities of public vehicle sharing — well, it was inspiring and a welcome change from the “my TV screen is brighter and bigger than yours” ethic of years past.

Juxtaposed against a backdrop of horror from a cowardly act of terror against free speech, I, for one, was proud to be in a place where some of the sharpest minds the world has to offer were working in concert to make that world a better place for all.