CES is a fantasyland of futuristic products. This year it was dominated by our bleak present

On my way back from Las Vegas in January 2020, I wrote an article for CNN Business about how the technology of the future paints a very lonely picture. I’ve just seen robots that call 911 when you fall, mechanical house cats that keep you company, and artificial human Neon starters that can do the same.

Two months later, my neighborhood in New York became one of the first in the country to be dropped off, and it’s been so long since I’ve been able to kiss the people I love most. A virtual reality trip to the Amalfi coast with them would have been a welcome change from our FaceTime recording routine, and not the very unusual concept I envisioned a year ago.

If loneliness was a taboo subject at CES 2020, this year it was anxiety and stress, both those of everyday life and those that characterize the current health crisis. This week’s online event featured: a wearable ear cushion that regulates stress with its gentle vibrations; a small, smart storage box with a fingerprint scanner to lock your pills or credit cards; a large safe that keeps hackers on the porch from stealing your Amazon packages; a car seat cushion that sends an alert if you forget your baby in the back seat; and a robot that loads your dishwasher.

Samsung’s Handy Robot Bot is still in development, but it’s the company’s vision for a new and better standard as more people than ever work, cook, eat and drown in food at home while a global pandemic looms on the horizon. As you can see in the video, Bot Handy sets the table, pours the wine and reminds you of your next appointments.

The technology in your home needs to be better to help you adapt to this new norm, the company said in a session description on its CES website.

And then there were the masks. One was equipped with a headset and a built-in microphone to make phone calls and the other to monitor air quality. The AirPop Active+ Smart Mask monitors and filters ambient air, blocking dust, allergens and microbial particles. It lets you know when you need a new filter and monitors your breathing with its sensors.

Maybe the depressing record of this year’s ESC is that we’re not doing well, but maybe technology can help.

Leaders and opinion leaders gathered virtually to propose solutions to the problems currently faced by many industries. A session described on the website about the future of contactless payments, which led to the idea that the less you touch, the safer you are, discussed how retailers can take the momentum of a boom into the distant, post-pandemic past. Another question related to the challenges of distance learning was how to proceed with future courses and whether certain technological tools could make telemedicine visits more meaningful.

We live in a time when most things we once took for granted now seem like a distant memory, Brian Kwon, CEO of LG Electronics, said in a video prior to the company’s presentation. Life changed so suddenly. Even if our approach to life is different today, we persevere.

This is not exactly the enthusiastic speech one would normally expect at a product launch.

Apple, which often makes headlines at the ESC without being present, took the opportunity this week to reveal more details about its $100 million racial equity and equal opportunity initiative. The organization, launched in June after the news and protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, announced where more money would go to fight systemic racism and create more opportunities for communities of color.

CES 2021 still had its share of fun innovations: the rolling phone, see-through television, Cadillac’s concept of a self-driving party bus, to name a few. But the technology that resonated the most reflected our current bleak world, at a time when many of us are just trying to get through the day.

A self-guided bus would be a great way to celebrate the end of the pandemic when it finally arrives, but for now all I want is a Keurig-like ice cream machine to soothe my soul while I wait for things to come back home.

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