CTA EVP Karen Chupka discusses AI, women in tech, and the early days of CES

CTA EVP Karen Chupka took a break from CES Asia to chat about her career, technology, and women in tech.

Karen Chupka for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)

Mike Morgan

CES Asia 2019 in Shanghai, China, wrapped up with great energy and expectations from global OEMs regarding Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and 5G. It seemed like no matter where I walked on the show floor those buzzwords were prominently placed on every booth attendant's badge or signage. 

In addition to roaming the show floor, I spoke with Consumer Technology Association's (CTA) Executive Vice President, Karen Chupka about technology, women in tech, and more.

SEE: Transgender employees in tech: Why this "progressive" industry has more work to do to achieve true gender inclusivity (TechRepublic cover story)

The big show now vs. the early years

Chupka, who has worked for the CTA for almost 30 years, shared some stories regarding the early days of CES. For example, if you've ever attended CES, you know that the registration process takes time as your information is uploaded and processed. Hundreds of thousands of people attend CES each year. That's hundreds of thousands of records to process. 

Now, think back to almost 30 years ago. Yes, computers were around, but networking wasn't the same as it is today. Can you imagine the horror of hand-filing your CES registration via the mail? Can you imagine the angst of hoping your registration made it to the registration team? Now consider Chupka as she helped manage the registration procedures and all of the bad penmanship she had to read; all of the worldwide phone calls she fielded to confirm with anxious attendees that their registration paperwork was successfully received? 

"Funny and stressful," was how Chupka described those times. 

"It's amazing to reflect on the progress our industry has made," she continued. "In the 50+ years of CES, we've seen tech innovation transform every major industry--and spur new industries around the world. Every facet of our lives has been impacted by technology--education, transportation, healthcare, agriculture, engineering, retail, and more.

"Tech innovation is more empowering today than ever before. Advancements such as 5G and AI revolutionize the way we live, work, and play. Transportation is smarter and more efficient. Connectivity is bringing our world closer together, enabling people to have better access to jobs, medical treatments, and educational opportunities. Through innovation, the possibilities are endless."

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Women in tech

Not only has the industry made progress with technology advancements, but with hiring practices, too. Chupka was candid about her experiences working up the ranks, and the encounters between herself and (male) leaders outside of the CTA., where phrases such as "hi, sugar" were considered normal when addressing a woman in the workplace. 

She noted that there is definitely a difference today when dealing with her male counterparts. She also admitted that not even the CTA was immune to sensitive situations regarding gender or harassment, but she that whenever a situation needed to be addressed, "Gary [Gary Shapiro is president/CEO of CTA] was always supportive" in getting the matter resolved fairly and effectively. 

In the US, workplace equality has been a hot-button topic. As an organization Chupka, said that "the CTA demonstrates our commitment to diversity and inclusion through the representation of our leadership and staff." 

More than 57% of CTA's executive leadership team are women; 71% of CES's executive leadership team are women, and 27% of CTA's employees are minorities.

"We believe that a diverse set of voices is important in all facets of business – not only in conferences and tradeshows, but in partnerships, thought-leadership and beyond," Chupka continued. "We model our organization as we hope to encourage the industry to move, and we've been very encouraged by our exhibitors and partners, both in the U.S. and abroad."

The CTA leads the way in ensuring that there's diversity and inclusion in other tech operations, and it committed to making a $10 million investment into venture firms and funds focusing on startups which are lead by women, people of color, and underrepresented groups. 

SEE: Artificial intelligence: Trends, obstacles, and potential wins (TechRepublic Premium)

AI today

CES Asia had some version of artificial intelligence (AI) on display at essentially every booth. I asked Chupka her thoughts on AI with regards to what it has provided and what it can provide. 

"Over the next decade, AI will be one of the key ingredient technologies. AI will soon touch nearly every major market, from smart cities to vehicle tech, robotics, digital health and beyond," said Chupka. "At CES Asia 2019, we saw the impact AI is having on the global technology market, creating customized experiences for the end user. It's this unique customization--across all markets--that will continue to add value to businesses and consumers alike."

AI and software within the hardware of today is the next step in making a difference in consumer tech and providing value to everyone. Chupka pointed out the company Byton, and its innovative line of vehicles as an example. While Byton manufactures vehicles, it has suggested that it is also a "media entertainment company," said Chupka. 

Granted, the M-Byte vehicle is not something the "average Joe or Jill" will purchase, but the foundation is in place for the existing technology to grow, improve, and become more accessible to all consumers. 

"Give AI time and do not dismiss it. It can get better and it will get better," said Chupka. And she is at the forefront of it seeing it. 

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By Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.