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Lessons Learned From The Hype Cycle

The so-called ‘hype cycle’ for new technology is real. Trust me; I’ve lived through four of them.

Why is it nearly impossible to acknowledge the state of technology in business today without first considering the current status and supposed promise of artificial intelligence (AI)? Because AI is riding high on what is known as the ‘hype cycle’ with no clear end in sight.

Coined in the 1990s by analyst firm Gartner Group, the ‘hype cycle’ trajectory described goes like this: a new tech becomes known, a few early adopters enjoy some well publicized (often over-hyped) success and others rush to implement the new fad often thinking the tech alone drives results. The outcomes are disappointing at best, then lead to a period of widespread disillusionment. Eventually, the market adjusts around patterns that emerge for how to apply said tech in a manner that delivers on desired results.

While some debate the validity of the ‘hype cycle’ phenomenon for emerging technology, I have actually seen it play out several times over the course of my own career. That’s why I’ve come to believe that those who fail to learn from past hype cycles are doomed to repeat them.

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HYPE

From my perspective, I have seen the rise, fall and plateau of four emerging technologies that have followed the course of the hype cycle: personal computing, the World Wide Web, customer relationship management and mobile applications. Each has enabled the next, building foundations for the next hype cycle to take place. There are lessons to be learned from each, but ultimately, the hype cycle model always reveals three key truths:

  1. The shelf-life for ideas is shorter than ever. Not only is it possible to be successful with technology early in the hype cycle, it can lead to significant competitive advantage. Companies who want to win must adopt a more aggressive strategy for embracing technology on the edge of the innovation curve. Those who can’t adapt will be left with stale products and services.
  2. The customer is your guide. Great products and services deliver on an experience, not just a feature set. Designing on the edge demands this approach more than ever. The most effective way to define and deliver on innovative experiences that are embraced by customers is to focus on the customer journey and execute with multidisciplinary teams including strategy, design and technology.
  3. The cost of failure is high. Failing to realize positive economic outcomes is the tip of the iceberg. Lasting damage to your brand, your customer relationships and your employee engagement can cost much more than the money wasted on the failed project.

 

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR AI

AI is not exactly new, and many aspects are not necessarily considered at the edge of the hype cycle. However, AI is experiencing a renaissance, which means the term AI itself is being used so broadly its meaning is becoming diluted. More specifically, machine learning, voice interaction, natural language understanding, computer vision and deep learning are all AI capabilities emerging on the edge of today’s hype cycle.

Technology alone does not make the case for innovation. In fact, from its new interaction models to its varied applications across industries, AI success is way more complicated than it looks. By embracing the hype cycle for emerging technology through a human-centered design lens, succeeding with AI—and whatever comes next—is possible.

Joe Murray

Joe leads the technology discipline for frog globally. With 25 years at the intersection of using design and technology to innovate customer experience, his greatest passion is helping companies design and build meaningful products and experiences that grow brands and delight customers while delivering economic results. He’s been privileged to serve clients including American Express, USAA, Apple, Cisco, eBay and DBS.

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