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AI - The Biggest Thing Since The Internet or Just Another Overhyped Technology?

The 'Hype Cycle,' a term coined by Gartner, provides a graphical illustration of a common pattern that arises with each new technology or innovation.

Gartner Hype Cycle for Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The 'Hype Cycle,' begins with the 'Innovation Trigger,' moves into the 'Peak of Inflated Expectations,' falls into the 'Trough of Disillusionment,' climbs the 'Slope of Enlightenment,' and finally reaches the 'Plateau of Productivity.'

It's easy to fall prey to overhype. High-profile tech developments like AI and autonomous cars often incite an abundance of speculation, sometimes reaching a fever pitch that fuels misplaced expectations.

Too often, decision-makers latch onto innovations during the 'Peak of Inflated Expectations,' where over promised hype tends to live. Caught in the allure of potential benefits, they invest heavily, often overlooking the crucial stages of in-depth evaluation and risk assessment.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI has often been lauded as the next big revolution, and undoubtedly holds the potential to significantly impact our lives, potentially reshaping entire sectors of the economy.

AI brain on computer - artificial intelligence

Take, for instance, OpenAI's language model, Chat GPT. It uses a simulated version of how the brain works to predict the next word in a sentence. While this might seem to resemble independent thought, it's important to remember that this technology doesn't consider future words until it generates the prior ones - a marked difference from the human thought process. Despite this, AI tools like these can drastically improve many areas of work, drive economic growth, and, unfortunately, may render certain jobs redundant. But it's essential to temper these expectations with the understanding that we are still far from achieving fully generative AI that thinks for itself.

Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles provide another intriguing example of technology's potential overhype. Over a decade ago, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised we'd have autonomous cars on the road by 2014. Today, that's not our reality!

Once fully operational, autonomous vehicles promise to be safer than human-driven vehicles. The potential societal impact of autonomous vehicles could be massive.

Autonomous cars in city - birds eye view

Envision the transformation: job roles such as truck or taxi driving could become obsolete. Urban planning and vehicle ownership could change dramatically, and long-distance travel could become more accessible and environmentally friendly. An 8 hour drive to visit family transforms from a mundane chore, to putting my legs up with a glass of wine and watching a film on Netflix, followed by reclining my seat and nodding off to sleep as I am whisked along to my destination. It would be more like flying business class with British Airways.

Despite these promising prospects, progress towards fully autonomous vehicles has been slower than initial predictions suggested, leaving some to question the timeline and trajectory of this technology. A significant barrier to both AI and autonomous cars is irrational fear, and concerns about AI taking over our lives often amount to unnecessary hype.

The discussion around AI and autonomous vehicles brings to light an important aspect of technological advancement: the balance between the promise and the reality. Other examples of technology that didn't live up to the hype include the Concorde, which, despite its speed, was ultimately scrapped due to cost inefficiencies. The journey of blockchain technology also serves as a reminder that while some technologies have transformative potential, their impact may be more incremental and less visible in our daily lives.

The Cloud

This has facilitated a wealth of software products, enabling extraordinary achievements with relative ease.

The Cloud uploads and downloads

The impact of cloud technology, with its wide proliferation of software products, could arguably be more significant than what AI will achieve in the same timeframe. Yet, the cloud never experienced the same level of hype as AI, perhaps because it didn't pose the same perceived threat to humanity. So, is AI overhyped?

Process Automation

While these technological advancements are significant, they should not obscure an important reality. The true strength of any organisation lies in its people and how effectively they utilise these tools. Technological tools can streamline processes and create efficiency, but they still require human input, creativity, and management. AI can support and automate various tasks, but it cannot replace the unique insights and perspectives that humans bring to the table (not yet anyway).

Artificial Intelligent robot (AI) with computers

For instance, consider the role of AI in process automation. While it has the potential to enhance productivity significantly, it falls short when applied to nuanced, business-specific processes that require a deep understanding of the business's unique context. Similarly, content creation, while facilitated by AI, still requires human creativity to generate engaging and innovative ideas. It is us who infuse the unique, creative essence into the work we produce, and AI merely assists us in making the process more efficient.

However, promising or transformative, technology cannot replace the human element. Magic happens when human creativity interacts with advanced technology, not when technology seeks to replace human input. As we anticipate future advancements, it's essential to manage expectations, mitigating hype while appreciating the genuine progress being made. Only then can we avoid the pitfall of overpromising and under delivering, maintaining faith in the transformative potential of technology.

Balancing Promise With Reality

The challenge of balancing promise with reality extends beyond the realm of technology and AI. Business leaders face a similar task when communicating plans and promises to their staff. Expectations need to be managed to avoid overhyping potential changes, rewards, or advancements that might not come to fruition as quickly or as beneficially as initially thought.

Overpromising to staff can lead to disillusionment, mistrust, and a reduction in morale if those promises aren't met. It's not just about missed targets or unfulfilled promises; it's about the fundamental trust between employees and their leaders. If employees feel they have been misled or that their leaders have not been transparent with them, it can significantly damage their engagement and productivity.

So, just as we approach AI and other technologies with a balanced perspective, understanding their potential while also acknowledging their current limitations, business leaders must be equally measured in their commitments to staff. Leaders should certainly inspire their teams with a vision for the future, but they also need to be transparent and honest about the potential challenges and realistic timelines.

Lightbulb with yellow screwed up post it note

In both cases, the key is effective communication. In the realm of technology, we need to ensure that we're not creating unrealistic expectations about the immediate impact of AI or autonomous vehicles. Similarly, in business, leaders must ensure that they're clear and transparent with their staff about company plans and potential benefits.

Just as we understand that the true strength of AI lies in its ability to support and amplify human skills, so too must we understand that the strength of a business lies in its people. Promises and plans should therefore be centred around supporting, developing, and valuing staff.

In the end, the goal should be to create a balanced view of the future - one that leverages the strengths of both technology and people, appreciating the value of each, and maintaining honesty and transparency throughout the journey.


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