Ah, the harbingers of the end of summer. The first day of school. Labor Day. The Gartner Hype Cycle.
As usual, the end of August featured the analyst company’s list of what it considered to be the most hyped (and over-hyped) technologies, as well as the ones where expectations are plummeting down to earth into more realistic realms.
At this point, it’s so well known that it’s hard to say whether the Gartner Hype Cycle is descriptive or prescriptive. Simply being on the Hype Cycle in a particular position seems to influence the industry.
In case you’ve missed it, the Gartner Hype Cycle is a graph showing the five stages of a particular technology. These are:
- Innovation Trigger, when a new technology first comes onto the scene
- Peak of Inflated Expectations, when people start thinking the new technology will change the world as we know it
- Trough of Disillusionment, when we realize that the new technology has flaws and many give up on it
- Slope of Enlightenment, when we start looking at the potential of the new technology more realistically
- Plateau of Productivity, when the new technology actually finds its role in business
Actually, there are more than a hundred Gartner Hype Cycles, one each for a variety of technologies, but the one that most people pay attention to is the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.
What was unusual about this year’s Gartner Hype Cycle is that Big Data—which has been one of the tent pegs for the past several years—is nowhere to be seen, after being plunged into the Trough of Disillusionment in 2013. That’s because, according to the company, Big Data is so pervasive that it can’t really be considered an emerging technology any longer. Gartner analysts Betsy Burton and David Willis telegraphed this last year during the release of the Gartner Hype Cycle 2015, when they announced that the company would no longer do a Hype Cycle for Big Data technologies.
“Dealing with large sets of information has become an integral part of most organizations’ businesses, and part of most computing environments,” the analysts wrote. “Therefore, we are integrating the big data and information topics across a number of Hype Cycles rather than covering the topics in one single Hype Cycle.”
Without Big Data, what technologies took center stage as being hyped?
- Blockchain, or a computerized distributed ledger system for securely developing alternative technologies such as bitcoin
- Machine learning, such as neural networks that take advantage of big data
Falling down the slope of the curve into the Trough of Disillusionment include autonomous vehicles and natural language processing, each because the industry is starting to run into the complexity they conjure, writes Serdar Yegulalp in InfoWorld. “It’s one matter to make a car that can maintain speed and distance from other cars on the highway, and another to make a car that can parallel-park without getting a ticket — for now,” he writes. “Ditto natural language, especially since natural language is ambiguous by nature.”
In addition, as with last year, a number of technologies on the Gartner Hype Cycle are grouped together into technology profiles, because their synergy is such that when one succeeds, the others follow along. Examples of these include:
- Transparently Immersive Experiences, like the smart home
- Smart Machines, including both the hardware and software to run them
- Platform Revolution, beyond traditional platforms such as mainframe, PC, and smartphone, including the Internet of Things
Gartner has particularly high hopes for smart machines. “Smart machine technologies will be the most disruptive class of technologies over the next 10 years due to radical computational power, near-endless amounts of data, and unprecedented advances in deep neural networks that will allow organizations with smart machine technologies to harness data in order to adapt to new situations and solve problems that no one has encountered previously,” the company writes.
Riding the hype cycle with your company can be heady, but dangerous, writes entrepreneur Mark Rosner in Venture Beat. “Hype backfires by shortening people’s patience,” he writes. “One minor fail by one company, and the whole industry takes a hit. If you are far away from meeting expectations, the tides can turn in short order. A product that doesn’t fully meet the standards set by that hype can, in a matter of days, tumble from ranking as tech’s golden child to tech’s biggest loser.”
At the same time, it’s important to remember that just because a technology is on the cycle doesn’t mean it’s bad. Typically, the real problem is our expectations. Nearly any technology with disruptive potential is going to be hyped; it’s human nature. In fact, it’s after a technology reaches the peak that it actually starts finding its true role in the industry. Consequently, Gartner Hype Cycle 2016, like all the Hype Cycles before it, is not really so much a graph of the various technologies as it is a graph of ourselves.
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