Money Matters: Making sense of the biggest CES trends

Education Resources, Finance 411,

This week, more than 180,000 people were drawn to Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, the year’s who’s who and what’s what for tech in the coming year. But how can you, as a journalist, help your viewers, listeners and readers make sense of it all?

One of the hottest trends to emerge from this year’s CES was the effort by companies that make voice assistants, e.g., Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc., to integrate their technology into virtually everything. Here are some tips on how to cover this development:

  • Find a family with a fully automated "smart home" that relies on a voice assistant to control almost everything. What are their positive experiences? What are their negative experiences? How did they set everything up? What are their recommendations for people who are beginning to look into using voice assistants?
  • What are the financial implications of using voice assistants? Those Amazon Echos, Google Homes and other brands’ devices don’t come free. What do they cost? Perhaps more important, what do the accessories cost? To automate their homes, consumers will need to pair their voice assistants with smart plugs, smart appliances, smart lightbulbs, and a myriad of other add-ons. What do they cost? Is the cost-versus-reward ratio worth it? Does a smart home allow users to save money? If so, how?
  • How does the use of voice assistants impact consumers’ privacy? If I use Alexa (Amazon Echo) or another device, is it always listening and learning things about me and my family and our private lives? Should I be concerned that my most private information is going onto a cloud somewhere and being stored for future use by somebody, some company, or some government agency?
  • This one may be a stretch, but is there any direct implication for personal finance issues on voice assistants? Talk to local financial advisers, bankers and the like to find out what they see in the future concerning any intersection between voice assistants and personal finance. Is it, or will it be, possible to set up and manage a college fund or retirement plan virtually, using a voice assistant?

Another big headline at CES was driverless cars. The tech companies that are developing the driverless cars on their own were showing off what they can do, and the big automakers were there, too. Here are some story ideas about driverless cars:

  • How soon are they coming? How much will driverless cars cost? What are the advantages to my having one? What are the disadvantages? Will they be safe? What will be in the connected dashboard? For example, will I be able to watch the news while commuting to work, or watch a movie while on a road trip? What else will I get to do once I don’t have to keep my eyes on the road?
  • Talk to your local public infrastructure officials. Are the streets, roads and highways in your area ready for driverless cars? What will it take to make them ready? What will it cost taxpayers?
  • Talk to local law enforcement, or your state police or state highway patrol. Talk to traffic safety experts. What are the implications for traffic safety? What concerns do they have about driverless cars? What do they see as the positives and negatives? If a driverless car is speeding, who gets the ticket? There are all kinds of questions for traffic cops to have to deal with. And for that matter, lawmakers have a lot to be concerned with. Talk to your local legislators. What laws or regulations do they foresee needing once driverless cars become prolific?
  • Talk to people who drive for a living. If I’m a truck driver, or a bus driver, or a taxi driver, or someone who drives for a car service or ride-share company, will I lose my job? Will there be any kind of safety net – training, etc. – for me if my job does go away?

The other most notable topic at CES was a debate over the efficacy of virtual reality (VR) versus augmented reality (AR). With VR you can transport yourself into another environment by putting on some head ware and other hardware. Mind-blowing, yes. But also very expensive and the cost to consumers is not likely to come down soon.

Many experts at CES, on the other hand, predicted a boom in AR, in which you stay in your current environment but, by wearing special eye ware or through other devices, get images or information projected onto your field of vision. (Remember Google Glass a few years back?) Such technology is already available in a limited way, on some new smartphones and car windshields. Here are some story ideas surrounding AR:

  • What are the implications for me, personally? Will I be able to walk into a store and have coupons or sale items projected automatically onto my field of view? Will GPS information be available so I can get directions to my destination without having to use a separate GPS device or my smartphone? What else?
  • How much will an AR device cost? Is it worth the expense and, if so, why?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages? Will AR help me as I drive down the street, or ride my bicycle, or walk down the sidewalk, or will it distract me and create new hazards?
  • What are the privacy concerns? Because Google Glass had the capability of taking photographs and recording video surreptitiously, the privacy police raised an uproar, and that was one factor in Google’s decision to put the project on hold. Have those concerns been addressed? If so, how? If not, why not and how can those concerns be addressed?

Voice assistants, driverless cars and augmented reality each are having, or will have, a myriad of implications for individuals. And they also provide a treasure trove of story ideas for journalists covering personal finance issues.

Now go do some actual reporting about the virtual world.

Weekly Money Matters personal finance content for your newsroom is sponsored by the National Endowment for Financial EducationSubmit your story idea.