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COMMENTARY: CES will and must go on in Las Vegas

We know several major companies have reduced their physical presence at CES 2022, and we understand their concerns. They want to protect their employees from COVID-19 and the risk of having to quarantine in Las Vegas.

At Consumer Technology Association, we believe passionately that innovation and technology will make a better world and solve some of the biggest problems in health, energy, mobility, the environment and more. CES is the world’s largest innovation event, and we have thousands of people coming from around the world to see and show products that will make life better.

Innovation can come from anywhere and anybody, and we must respect and encourage that. This conviction informs all of our public policy positions, and the major tech companies — almost all of whom are our members — respect CTA for always looking out for smaller companies. Indeed, at CES and even as members of CTA, more than 80 percent of our membership is smaller companies. These companies and these founders are the ones I think of when I say it’s not time to pull the plug on CES 2022.

CES will and must go on. It will have many more small companies than large ones. It may have big gaps on the show floor. Certainly, it will be different from previous years. It may be messy. But innovation is messy. It is risky and uncomfortable. I view CES as representing the best of our unique American history — a place where those who are different and have big ideas can gather. Where success is not based on class or religion or anything but the strength of an idea.

As we look to CES 2022, we confront a tough choice. If we cancel the show, we will hurt thousands of smaller companies, entrepreneurs and innovators who have made investments in building their exhibits and are counting on CES for their business, inspiration and future. If we do not cancel, we face the drumbeat of press and other critics who tell the story only through their lens of drama and big name companies.

We are mindful of concerns that CES could be an event where the omicron variant can spread. We are leading the way in requiring masks and vaccines, recommending testing and offering free tests. We respect that some do not want to take the risk involved in travel to Las Vegas, even in the vaccinated bubble of CES. But with significant safety measures and fewer people, there is plenty of space for attendees to socially distance.

We have consulted with experts, both medical and analytical, and have been advised that with our health and safety protocols, infections should be minimal. We are also working with leading health experts in Nevada.

We are living in uncertain times. We have spent some 20 months surviving — thanks to vaccines, the medical community and technology — in a virtual world. But as every CEO knows, we are humans. We need each other and we especially need each other for innovation to thrive.

For those who can’t make it to Las Vegas, we will stream many of the key presentations and give every exhibitor, including those who recently canceled, the no-cost opportunity to extend their CES presence globally.

It’s time we return to making the world better rather than living in fear. CES 2022 will kick off 2022 in messy fashion, but it will be chock full of innovation and full of entrepreneurs and businesses. We will all be taking risks. But without risk there is no innovation.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association.

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