To enlightenment – and beyond

An upward slope

Gartner’s Hype Cycle charts the journey of new technology through five stages of development, from inception to production and, potentially, adoption. Gartner names the five phases Innovation Trigger, Peak of Inflated Expectations, Trough of Disillusionment, Slope of Enlightenment and Plateau of Productivity.

In the fourth part of an Insights series about the cycle, we investigate the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ – when new technology begins to find its feet and there’s a chance uptake will become widespread.

Oct 2nd 2017 

The buzz around 3D TV was immense. As Director of Advanced Technology and Innovation at Liberty Global, Neil Illingworth recalls telling colleagues about the new way to watch telly that was taking the world by storm.

Perfectly timed technological capability and consumer demand meant it seemed like 3D TV was quickly scaling the Gartner Hype Cycle Slope of Enlightenment.

In fact, it didn’t happen.

Neil says, “I was running around showing off 3D TV to everyone saying, ‘This is the great new thing.’ We got people thinking about it and generated excitement and momentum within the company, but in the end the demand dropped off and 3D TV didn’t make it into the phase of widespread adoption, mainly due to the ugly glasses. However, we were the first TV company in the UK to launch a 3D service.”

The struggle to become mainstream

For the past six or seven years, Neil has kept a close eye on Gartner’s annual appraisal of technology. He remembers the Internet of Things’ (IoT) first appearance several years ago, and has learned that in reality, progress doesn’t always correspond to what the graph predicts.

Even Gartner admits as much. In a special report, analysists Jackie Fenn and Alexander Linden looked back to the first Hype Cycle in 1995, when Speech Recognition was placed on the Slope of Enlightenment. Ten years later, in 2005, it just made the Plateau of Productivity.

“Some technologies didn't fare so well,” says the report, “videoconferencing, handwriting recognition and speech recognition are still featured 10 years later on the 2005 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle as they struggle toward mainstream adoption.”

Avoiding the peak

Neil believes the Hype Cycle’s shortcomings reflect fickle and unpredictable user habits.

He says, ‘Okay, so the trajectories often don’t happen as they should. In some ways, it is human nature. If you think of Christmas Day, when there’s all the excitement of opening presents, then there’s no batteries, then your relatives arrive and reality kicks back in. I’ve noticed how some things make the Peak of Enlightenment and then disappear entirely. When it comes to me and my team, we want to avoid that overhyped peak and go straight to the Slope of Enlightenment, educating departments, teams and individuals about what to expect from tech, what it will cost and how and if they will benefit.”

Conquering the slope

In 3D Printing for Production Parts: On the Slope of Enlightenment, Machine Design writer Stephen Mraz states that 3D printing for production is on the Slope, while Gartner’s 2016 cycle plotted Virtual Reality (VR) there. Neil, who is looking into VR, broadly agrees.

“I do think VR is on the Slope of Enlightenment,” he says. “As an organisation, we are looking at it seriously to see what projects and benefits it can offer.”

Meanwhile in Coming to maturity, more work needed, Global Telecoms Business states Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) is on the Slope of Enlightenment:

“The road ahead – the slope of enlightenment – seems full of mind-numbingly hard work. That’s precisely where carrier virtualisation [NFV] is right now.”

“Mind-numbingly hard work,” certainly sounds ominous. Luc Warner is Director of Communications and Marketing at Cobalt Telephone Technologies. While conquering the Slope of Enlightenment is undoubtedly a challenge, Luc believes it is hugely important.

He says, “The Slope is the natural maturing of a technology in terms of its practical use and the target populations’ acceptance or not. The tech moves from the very early adopters to become slightly more mainstream, weeding out the too-specialist ideas but beginning to build the niches of demand that will fuel a proper successful product.

“Ultimately, if the hype brings a spotlight on a technology, and encourages new entrants to have a go, and then a form of de-hyping natural selection leaves us with genuinely useful and viable products and services, then that’s a good thing.”

Disrupter disrupted?

Ironically, Luc wonders if the Hype Cycle, which is often first to publicise emerging disruptive technologies, might itself be disrupted one day.

He says, “One has to ask if hype still has the power. Or does crowdfunding and the web’s reach into micro-niches mean we have less need for the hype? In turn, is the Peak of Inflated Expectations getting lower?”

It’s an interesting prospect. We’ll leave you to ponder the Hype Cycle being disrupted out of existence - but do check back for our take on the final stage of the cycle, the Plateau of Productivity.

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