Large-scale events like CES aren’t working virtually right now.
The reason is that video conferencing tools, and especially those designed to scale to significant events, don’t address the reason most go to these events: to meet new people and discover new things. Vendors go to these events to get business, but the tools, designed to stream content, don’t meet the needs of either group at scale.
But I think artificial intelligence (AI) could be the answer here, because it could do what social media was supposed to do but fails badly at — and that is matchmaking. Suppose an AI knows your needs and the vendor content at the event to a sufficiently granular level. It could automatically set your agenda and match make with vendors of any size. This matchmaking could make virtual events far more efficient and effective than in-person events. All they need is to use what Amazon and eBay use, an AI recommendation engine.
Let’s talk about how AI might be used to fix significant events like CES.
CES 2021 had a ton of content, and clearly, you could attend virtually and see presentations by the major vendors. But if you’ve been to CES in person, you know that much of that show, I would say better than 99% of it, is made up of small vendors that you discovered while walking the floor or going to side events while in Las Vegas.
You waste a ton of time in transport just trying to get physically around the big show and finding exciting things is as much about luck as it is pre-planning. You have limited time and much of it is just wasted getting around, so you’d think a virtual event that didn’t require physical travel would be better.
With massive amounts of content, the idea of manually wading through page after page of vendors to try to find areas of interest not only isn’t pleasant, like many, I didn’t do it at all. The result was I spent much of my time seeing presentations from those I already had relationships with and looked at some of the award winners. But I didn’t see a fraction of what I’d have typically seen at CES.
Worse, the dinners, drinks, and lunches that are used for relationship building had no virtual replacement. So while CES virtually certainly used less of my time, I got far less benefit, and vendors, particularly the smaller ones, got far fewer opportunities to engage meaningfully.
But compelling content existed, we have plenty of tools to connect people at a distance, and I think AI could be the tool that could fix this.
AI-Driven Large Event
AIs are good at navigating large pools of information and matching that information with the user’s requirements. We call this class of AI a recommendation engine, and it requires a deep knowledge of what the user wants and the diversity of information available.
CES asks every year what the attendees’ interests are, and it should be capturing who the attendees are meeting with and attendees’ positions in their companies. In addition, it does capture information from each vendor, but it may not capture it granularly enough to capture the unique aspects of every product the vendor sells. That data collection shortfall would need to be addressed for this to work.
Based on what the CES AI knew about the user/attendee and the vendors at the virtual event, it could set a virtual plan for that user and pre-set up meetings based on the user’s interests and job. For instance, a reporter at the event who covers cars and is interested in electric cars would get a virtual plan of car announcements and presentations, with a one-button ability to set up one-on-one meetings with the PR reps from the vendors. Someone building an electric car solution might instead get a shortlist of vendors selling solutions (software/hardware/in-car entertainment) that was curated to their interest. The user/attendee could check off those things they found most interesting.
Then the AI would generate a virtual plan, and based on the user/attendee’s interest, suggest people in their area of interest they might want to meet virtually. Think of this as Facebook but working as a social relationship-building platform for events.
Large-scale events are inherently inefficient because of the travel time to get to the event and the time needed to navigate around it. Virtual events could be and should be far better. Still, they are far worse because simply digitizing a massive amount of information doesn’t make access better and makes it even more tedious to access. Current-generation AIs, once trained, are good at dealing with large data sets and finding relationships. As matchmakers, recommendation engines are unparalleled.
This recommendation skill, used widely in online applications like Amazon and eBay, could make events like virtual CES better for all than their physical alternative. And since it appears extensive physical events will continue to be non-viable for the near future, why not make them obsolete and move a technology event like CES to a technology platform where the event not only showcased leading tech but used it effectively as well.