If you believe the tech industry hype, then you may have heard some of the following: The robot cars are coming! The robot cars are 15 years away! You should hold off on the purchase of your next vehicle! Sadly, people are usually pretty awful at predicting tech, especially when it’s the exciting tech that most of us want. It will most likely be at least two vehicle purchases before you can afford a self-driving one.
Despite the lack of immediate gratification, patience is a virtue and technology does deliver in the end. Perhaps the most famous technological disappointment is the flying car. Back to the Future was decades ago, but the flying car—not to mention the hoverboard—has yet to materialize for us.
Beware the tech industry hype cycle
Had you, for example, told everyone in the 1980s that by 2010 we would all be walking around with flat, touchscreen supercomputers in our pockets—with an always-on wireless connection to the sum total of human knowledge—most people would have thought you were a sci-fi author, a dreamer, or just insane. That’s the sort of nonsense everyone was promised by the tech industry hype of the 50s and 60s, and it never materialized.
Even into the 90s, the idea that someone would successfully combine a cell phone, music player, video player, and computer into one gadget seemed like a fantasy. We could barely keep a cell phone that was “just a phone” operating for more than a couple of hours, and they were the size of bricks. Today, smartphones are cheap enough to be ubiquitous even in the poorest countries and are often the only computer people have.
Enterprise technology analysts at Gartner have created a concept called the hype cycle to describe this phenomenon. A technology trigger leads to some research and development. This creates first generation products. Everyone gets excited by the possibility and hypes it up. The first gen products don’t live up to expectations the technology falls into the “trough of disillusionment.” From there subsequent generations of products are developed, refining the technology so it’s better able to meet market needs. Adoption grows and plateaus as pressure builds to make radical alterations to the technology.
This serves as the tech trigger for another hype cycle, and we’re off to the races one more time.
Technology we’re just plain ruining
Ever been oversold something by a salesman? Ever had a friend talk up a blind date so much they had zero percent hope of living up to it? Hype is the worst, and it stands to tarnish some amazing technology before it even really exists. Machine learning, for one, has a lot to offer the world if we just let it incubate a little longer. It has revolutionary potential and just about nothing to show for itself—yet.
To put it into a simple equation, over-hype + premature, inflated investments + unavoidable under-delivery = a bad taste in the mouth of investors who aren’t like to reinvest again. You know, when the tech innovation is actually a thing. And just like that, you’ve stunted technological advancements that could have hugely benefitted the world.
One tech innovation currently at the peak of a hype cycle is artificial intelligence (AI). If you listen to the so-called visionaries, we’ll all have fully sentient Cylon servants inside a decade and be able to upload our consciousness into a virtual reality paradise shortly after that. That’s all so far beyond our current technological capability that it’s downright laughable.
AI won’t be built within our lifetimes. This isn’t to say it’s impossible to construct; rather, we are woefully deficient in both the basic research into the kinds of multi-dimensional neural networks and the materials technology required to build the type of brains required to house that level of consciousness.
Despite the tech industry hype, we won’t be seeing the flying car of the AI world. Oh well. AI in some form or another has become an invisible part of the world around us, and most of us don’t even realize it. It’s in the automatic braking system of our cars. It makes the advanced radios in our cell phones possible. AI runs everything from radar systems to the flight systems that let military drones fly even when operators are halfway around the world.
Modern tech is A-OK
Yes, the robot vacuum you bought at the retail store isn’t the brightest, but 25 years ago it would have been the pipe dream of a madman. That vacuum’s larger cousins help run a robot hotel and serve as robot submarines. It’s okay to be excited about groundbreaking tech concepts, but let’s be reasonable and not set ourselves up to be disappointed long before it ever becomes real life. Instead of frowning forward waiting for new innovations, look back and marvel at how fast we’ve advanced. Imagine life before cell phones, the internet, or even TV . . . Roomba seems pretty dope now, doesn’t it?
The current tech industry hype will give way to natural language and computer vision systems that allow computers to see in a manner similar to us and to understand what we mean when we talk. From there, very real products will develop and they will integrate themselves into every aspect of our lives. So don’t buy into everything that every “visionary” dreams up as absolute truth, but don’t be completely disillusioned either. Technology marches on as widget by widget becomes just another part of our daily lives.