FUTURE SHOCK: COMMUNISTS CONQUER LAS VEGAS

LET’S get the bad news out the way first – no time machines were unveiled at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Yet attendees at the world’s most prestigious tech event could be forgiven for thinking they’d been zapped back to another year, such was the sense of déjà vu.

Bigger tellies, check. Thinner laptops, check. Robot suitcases – check-in. 3D selfie cameras – check yourself out. AI chess champs – checkmate. Expensive sex androids – cheque mating. It really could have been any CES since its debut in 1967 – a showcase of refined, smoother iterations of whatever clunk is presently in vogue. Except, beyond the surface familiarity, a true revolution bubbled underneath this year’s respectful facade. Quite perceptibly, war was being declared upon America’s tech tyranny.

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Napoleon Bonaparte, who also liked a good war, once said the world will shake when the sleeping giant of China awakes. But we must travel back further to the tale of the Trojan horse entering the gates of Troy to draw a better analogy for the guerrilla attack by the People’s Republic at CES 2018.

Clearly seeking to topple US, Japanese and South Korean dominance of the global tech arena, more than one-quarter of the firms at this year’s CES were Chinese – 1,300 of the 4,500 attendees. Around 500 companies presenting their wares also had the word “Shenzhen” in their name – the sprawling Chinese manufacturing metropolis where most of your gadgets were made. This was a truly unprecedented display of communist might unleashed in Las Vegas – the very heart of profligate American consumerism.

Did the denizens of Silicon Valley really think highly-skilled Chinese labourers would be content to serve Uncle Sam on a pittance until the end of days? It’s no secret, but the times they are a’changing in the People’s Republic. Future CES events will prove whether China can become synonymous with quality and innovation but it does seem like one of Donald Trump’s campaign pipe-dreams on manufacturing might actually come to pass in a way he didn’t foresee – with the world’s electronic goods being branded with a new label: “Designed in China, assembled in California.”

Here are four ways CES showed how the tech world may soon end up in China’s hands …

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ROLL UP, ROLL UP

MILLENNIALS will read this open-mouthed, but feeding your rented telly 50p coins to fire it up was once a reality. Toddlers used to dodge traffic like Frogger after being sent out to the ice-cream van “for change”. Running out of silver halfway through Taggart felt like a death in the family.

Thankfully, CES 2018 has definitively proven we’re now a long way from that Mike Leigh fever dream. South Korean giants LG unveiled a truly stunning 65-inch 4K telly – one which you can roll up like a newspaper to swat flies or use as a makeshift trumpet. Yet the shock of the new was diminished somewhat by the fact that LG had shown off a smaller prototype last year. And what do you point the furniture at when the telly’s been rolled up and put away?

So the newsworthy innovation was left to Chinese firm Hisense, which appears to have reached into the future and pulled out a tiny laser-projecting device which magically fires out a cinematic 150-inch 4K image with the power of 3,000 lumens – brighter than Barry Gibb’s smile – onto any surface, not just white walls. It comes complete with a tiny lady called Alexa trapped inside. Whether there’ll be a slot on the side to tip her 50p pieces is still to be confirmed.

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FACE OF THINGS TO COME

“ALL men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity.” So warned multitasking poet and soldier TE Lawrence on the dangers of ego. Perhaps his work hasn’t been translated to Mandarin, but Chinese firm Haier has decided to throw itself face-first into the folly of narcissism by, well, shoving a computer inside a mirror.

The unimaginatively-named Magic Mirror looks like any other reflective surface – ie you. And like all mirrors, it confirms youth has now left the building. But as you headbutt this glass in a fit of existential despair, it comes to life. The HD display boasts numerous apps, flashing screeds of terrifying health-related info around your face and, perhaps more terrifyingly, also connects to Facebook and Twitter. Forget never having to leave your home, you’ll never have to leave the bathroom.

The mirror’s AI integration also assesses your vital stats and advises on how best to remedy your midlife malaise. I’m guessing eat less and exercise more. TE Lawrence concluded his rum denunciation of vanity with the line: “The dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” With that said, Haier plans to launch the Magic Mirror later this year.

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RISE OF THE ROBOTS

ROCKY 4 is a superior slice of 80s tripe for many reasons, but it’s the love affair – unconsummated, assumedly – between the boxer’s drink-soaked brother-in-law and a life-size robot that maintains the movie’s relevancy for today’s generation. Critical snobbery will keep its influence hush-hush, but Paulie’s taboo lust clearly inspired the subversive machine/flesh erotica of Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina and Her.

Our stubborn anthropomorphism of robots is a weird one – emulating simple bodily functions like walking is a huge headache for designers. And don’t even mention stairs. Yet it seems we won’t accept R2-D2 as the end product – we want Terminators. It also seems that Nietzsche was right – God is dead and we are now God, unimaginatively following in His footsteps to create in our own image.

Here to fill the theosophical void is Ubtech, a China-based robotics company which unveiled the impossible dream at CES 2018: a life-sized, walking butler for the home. Just like Rocky’s. “Walker” can patrol your home, bring you a can of lager and, allegedly, walk down stairs. He can also dance and play football – but his lack of arms rule out rugby. If you’re worried your new robot slave might lose their balance and crush the dog, relax. Walker is very light and designed to be in perfect balance at all times. Arms have upset his symmetry in the lab, but Ubtech promises he’ll have them by his 2019 release. Paulie should note that Walker has no known orifices at the time of going to press.

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THE ROAD AHEAD

ECCENTRIC US car designer Henrik Fisker has enjoyed a chequered history, but perhaps an Indian summer is in store for this automotive innovator. His new EMotion electric sedan drew gasps at CES 2018, a self-driving, battery-powered wonder with a 400-mile range and top speed of 160mph. But Fisker actually had something even more interesting up his sleeve – a working prototype of his new “solid-state” battery which could potentially deliver world-changing boosts in power.

For three decades, batteries in laptops and smartphones – and now electric cars – have been based on volatile lithium-ion tech. Solid-state neutralises this instability and can conduct intense power without bursting into flames. The catch? They are at least five years away. But once again at CES 2018, a Chinese firm gazumped all other offerings with something even more wondrous. And with it, the future truly arrives.

Byton’s staggering new electric car is designed with self-driving to the fore and boasts the world’s first-ever rotating “bar stool” front seats. This effectively invents the mobile pub. The vehicle’s coup-de-grace to rivals, however, is its jaw-dropping “coast-to-coast” display – a 1.25-metre screen spanning the entire dashboard. This can be controlled by gestures or by speaking to Alexa – but misogynist Knight Rider fans shouldn’t despair, you’ll be able to download Kitt’s voice to replace her.

And that’s not all – built-in wellness sensors measure occupants’ heart rates, blood pressures and oxygen saturation levels. But you might not stay healthy for too long. The car uses facial recognition to unlock its doors, making your head a prime target for decapitation for those who may also want to experience the future.