Weekend Roundup: Virtual CES; Intel Switches CEOs

It’s the weekend! You made it through yet another week in what’s already proving a very, er, interesting year. Before you shut down for the weekend (and please, step away from the laptop or phone for a bit), let’s review some of the big tech stories from the week, including Intel switching CEOs and all the cool products that came out of this year’s (virtual) CES.

Intel Switches CEOs

Intel announced this week that CEO Bob Swan would step down in mid-February. Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMWare, will replace him. It’s yet another sign of internal trouble at the chipmaker, which has flailed against AMD and other competitors for the past several quarters.

Once the dominant force among processor-makers, Intel has struggled to roll out its last generation of chips. Arch-rival AMD, meanwhile, has caught up—and even begun to surpass—Intel on the performance front. There are also worrisome signals from Intel’s traditional customer base: Apple, which has utilized Intel chips in its Mac lineup for the past 15 years, recently unveiled a new generation of computers running silicon built in-house. 

If Microsoft, which has maintained a strong relationship with Intel for decades (leading to the rise of the term “Wintel,” for all the PCs running Windows OS on Intel chips) decides to follow Apple’s lead and build its own silicon for its Surface line of devices, that’ll be another sign that Intel is in very serious trouble. Given the rapid increases in processing power, it doesn’t take much for any chip manufacturer to fall behind. 

As highlighted by CNBC, Swan didn’t have a technical background, which may have put him at a disadvantage when it came to running a company that needs to stay on the bleeding edge of very cutting-edge technology. Gelsinger, by contrast, worked at Intel for 30 years as an engineer, eventually rising to Chief Technology Officer (from 2000-2005); he’ll need all of that experience if he wants to navigate Intel through this particularly perilous moment.

White House Launches A.I. Initiative Office 

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has launched the National Artificial Intelligence Office, tasked with accelerating the nation’s A.I. efforts. Sure, that wasn’t exactly the biggest news coming out of the White House this week, but it could prove enormously important to the development of A.I. and machine learning platforms over the next several years.

Specifically, this National Artificial Intelligence Office will coordinate federal resources for A.I. research and policymaking, while collaborating with academic and private-sector stakeholders. Given all the heady technological advances that hinged on heavy federal investment, such as the internet, this kind of support could prove vital as the U.S. seeks the dominate the maturing market for everything A.I.-related. 

Virtual CES: Anyone Want a Smart Mask?

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), like everything else these days, went fully virtual. That was good news for the attendees (and reporters) who usually have to fight their way through the massive crowds in Las Vegas to catch a glimpse of the latest gear and gadgets, even if it meant no hands-on time with any products.

What did companies roll out this year? It was an eclectic mix, to put it mildly. Want an electric car with solar panels? Sono Motors had a concept vehicle with that very thing. How about a “smart mask” that monitors air quality (as seen above)? AirPop had that (the accompanying app also checks your breaths per minute, in case you were curious). And that’s in addition to the usual foldable, adjustable laptops and portable screens from a variety of manufacturers (which pop up at every CES, but it’s interesting to see what companies are creating these days).

Wired and other publications have a full rundown of the products on display (TL;DR: lots of masks, lots of laptops, lots of security devices). How many of these will actually succeed with consumers, though? That’s always a huge question, but the truth is, maybe a small handful of products shown off at CES eventually prove a hit. The rest tend to fail—but many are interesting failures, at least.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Stay safe!