When Tech Hype Becomes Workplace Reality

Which will hit the workplace first: robots, self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence or virtual reality? While it’s really hard to predict, the advisory company Gartner has come up with a good methodology they call the Gartner Hype Cycle.

The illustration above shows how it works. About 30 emerging technologies are plotted on a graph according to where each one’s expectations (vertical axis) are on a time horizon. It works on the theory that innovations all pass through stages over time including the innovation trigger, peak expectations (the ‘hype’), trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment, and finally, the plateau of productivity.

For example, right now ‘machine learning’ is at maximum hype, with article after news article proclaiming how computers are going to get super smart, super fast. Inevitably the technology can’t live up to the hype, so down the slope it goes into the trough of disillusionment where everyone abandons it, only to slowly recover as a real technology that finds its footing. 

This model seems to work. In 2014, two of the items toward the end (right) of the slope were speech recognition and 3D enterprise printing. Anyone with a smartphone knows that speech recognition is now a reliable, time-saving tool, and Apple is adding Siri to its desktop OS this week. And GE just spent $1.4 billion to buy two 3D printer companies, showing that the plateau of productivity had been reached for that technology.

So what are the next technologies to mature? The two furthest on the 2016 slope (above) are augmented reality and virtual reality, meaning we’ll soon see actual products using these ideas. Actually we recently saw one – the Pokémon Go game, built incorporating augmented reality. On the other side of the curve are smart robots, virtual personal assistants and smart dust (whatever that is!). Lots of cool stuff coming our way…

Illustration: Gartner website

Frank Kenna III
September 21, 2016

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