Antonio Nuno
Someone Somewhere founder Antonio Nuño shares his ideas on how events like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas can "become not only the most influential tech events on the planet, but also for the planet." Antonio Nuno

I just spent the last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. [Antonio Nuno shared these thoughts with International Business Times upon his return from the Consumer Electronics Show in January.] It is one of the world's largest events, with more than 100,000 attendees. Every tech company comes here to launch its most exciting breakthroughs, so it's a great way to see where some of the most brilliant people are focusing their talents.

I've been very inspired by the creativity and the pace at which some innovations are advancing. I was also thrilled to see sustainability and DE&I as central topics on the agenda. But I felt a strange itch throughout the whole conference. Here's why.

In the stampede to innovate, here's what technology is missing.

According to the World Bank, almost 50% of the world's population lives with less than US$2,500 per year ($6.85/day), and nearly 700 million live with less than US$785 per year ($2.15/day). Yet most of the products I saw cost at least US$2,500! Massage chairs, ultra-flat screens, emoji robots, and showers with the perfect water pressure. Half the world's population would have to save absolutely every penny they earn for a year to buy one of these products.

Why aren't more resources and talent focused on innovations that could make the lives of 50% of the poorest people 100% better, instead of improving the lives of the 1% most affluent people by 1%?

Money is the most obvious answer. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the top 1% of the U.S. population earns at least US$823K. This means the purchasing power of these 3 million people alone is five times bigger than that of the 700 million poorest people in the world. It makes sense that so many companies are investing in these types of products (and hiring talented people to develop them), but I believe there's another, less apparent reason: awareness.

I talked with many programmers, product managers and marketing leaders of these companies. They are all smart, motivated and kind. But most of them have lived all their lives in cities, so they have never spent an hour with someone living in extreme poverty, let alone lived in a marginalized community for a day to understand the types of problems they face.

Let's change the focus of technology expos.

How can we bridge this gap and leverage the power of events like CES to create the empathy we desperately need? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Ensure that at least 1% of the event's attendees are rural innovators from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Attending these events usually costs more than they would earn in a full year of work, so scholarships are crucial.
  2. Make these innovators headliners of the most popular talks and panels to ensure they have visibility. For example, if the CEO of the largest telecom company is giving a one-hour talk, give five minutes at the beginning to an innovator working on rural connectivity.
  3. Build spaces for them to share their problems and get advice from attendees. These spaces could even catalyze investment or donations to help them advance their work. To ensure this is accessible for people from the most remote regions, install AI-powered booths that translate conversations in real time, so language is not a barrier.
  4. Dedicate at least 1% of the event's space and resources to build a pavilion where everyone can experience how it feels to live in a household that earns US$2 per day. Here are some activations that could really spark the imagination:

a) A co-working space where people could experience the download and upload internet speeds available in rural communities worldwide. Challenge: Watch a two-minute HD video about the event without losing your mind.

b) An ultra-dark, candle-lit room showing what kids in off-the-grid villages have to do to do their homework. Challenge: Memorize the critical dates of a historical event before your candle burns off.

c) A kitchen with wood-powered stoves. Challenge: Cook a tortilla without getting smoke in your eyes.

d) A circuit where people can experience what it is like to bring water from a well outside your community. Challenge: Carry 10 liters of water for 200 yards on an obstacle-filled track.

e) A nap room where people can try to sleep in a few of the different mattress options available in rural communities (e.g., the floor, a hammock, a palm-woven mat, a 20-year-old mattress). The challenge: Stay in the same position for more than five minutes.

  1. Transcript all the top conferences, and translate them so that people who can't come can actually be part of the conversation. Streaming is a fantastic solution for people with good internet speeds, but for most of these communities, it is impossible (and sometimes super expensive) to watch a 20-minute video. A full transcript and translation, uploaded to your website in real time, could give access to millions. AI can also help with this.

How can the event organizers fund these scholarships and activations? This one is quite simple. Charge an extra US$20 to every attendee (the cost of a personal pizza) and 5% more to every corporate sponsor. An event with 100,000 attendees could quickly generate an extra US$5 million with these two revenue streams, which would be enough to fund every initiative mentioned above. All while making it significantly more inspiring.

If only 1% of the attendees got inspired to ensure technology also reaches the most marginalized communities, these events could transform millions of lives. And they could become not only the most influential tech events on the planet, but also for the planet.

Antonio Nuño is the co-founder and CEO of Someone Somewhere, a B-Corp and Climate Neutral company on a mission to lift millions of artisans out of poverty by connecting their products with the needs of modern companies and consumers.