Foundations for evolving relationships between people and machines

Robot & Frank

IT Industry analysts Gartner announced its 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies on August 19, with an assessment of the tech landscape that visualises its market analysis, concentrating on the evolving relationship between humans and machines.

In explaining that relationship focus, Gartner’s Jackie Fenn – originator of the hype cycle model – said in the press announcement that she wanted to “encourage enterprises to look beyond the narrow perspective that only sees a future in which machines and computers replace humans.”

In fact, [Fenn said,] by observing how emerging technologies are being used by early adopters, there are actually three main trends at work. These are augmenting humans with technology – for example, an employee with a wearable computing device; machines replacing humans – for example, a cognitive virtual assistant acting as an automated customer representative; and humans and machines working alongside each other – for example, a mobile robot working with a warehouse employee to move many boxes.

Gartner’s research vice president Hung LeHong added that “enterprises of the future will use a combination of these three trends to improve productivity, transform citizen and customer experience, and to seek competitive advantage.”

These three major trends are made possible by three areas that facilitate and support the relationship between human and machine. Machines are becoming better at understanding humans and the environment – for example, recognizing the emotion in a person’s voice – and humans are becoming better at understanding machines – for example, through the Internet of things. At the same time, machines and humans are getting smarter by working together.

The three trends + three areas that LeHong speaks of are these:

  1. Augmenting humans with technology
  2. Machines replacing humans
  3. Humans and machines working alongside each other
  4. Machines better understanding humans and the environment
  5. Humans better understanding machines
  6. Machines and humans becoming smarter

You can read Gartner’s thinking on each of these in the press announcement. (For the detailed findings, analyses and predictions, you’ll need to shell out $1,995.00 for the full report.)

Keeping in mind that thinking from Gartner, I was interested to see what this year’s emerging tech hype cycle looks like in terms of what technologies are highlighted and where in the cycle they appear, with an eye on seeing Gartner’s projections in terms of years to the Holy Grail of the Plateau of Productivity (see the Wikipedia entry for a description of that and each of the terms used to define each stage in the hype cycle).

2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies

There’s a great deal of interesting information in this hype cycle graph that communicators should pay attention to, whether you’re in tech or interested in the close subject matter or not. Consider Gartner’s premise – the evolving relationship between humans and machines. That is definitely an area of keen interest to us.

Here are just six things that jump out at me:

  1. There are many technologies on or approaching the Peak of Inflated Expectations that Gartner projects will take five to ten years (the solid blue circles) or more than ten years (the yellow triangles) to reach the Plateau of Productivity – assuming they make it through the Trough of Disillusionment. So much will happen in 5-10 years that intelligent analysis in 2013 could be as good as informed guessing.
  2. Sitting at the apogee of that Peak are Big Data, Consumer 3D Printing, Gamification, Wearable User Interfaces – all technologies constantly in the buzz machines of social networking sites and early adopter circles. How soon – and how fast – will they fall or plummet into the Trough of Disillusionment? Perhaps more importantly, how quickly – or at all – will they rise up onto the Slope of Enlightenment?
  3. I was surprised to see that the Internet of Things has moved little compared to where it was on the 2012 hype cycle – still rising in the Innovation Trigger towards the Peak of Inflated Expectations but not there just yet. Gartner still thinks it will be more than ten years before this emerging technology reaches the Plateau of Productivity.
  4. Last year, BYOD was right on the peak of Inflated Expectations. This year, it’s not mentioned at all.
  5. Augmented Reality is on the move down towards the Trough of Disillusionment. Will it languish there? Or will its stay be short? Gartner thinks it will be 5-10 years before this tech makes it to that Plateau of Productivity, perhaps suggesting it’s still an early adoptive and experimental tech for the most part, notwithstanding what some companies are doing with it today, eg, Audi helping drivers know more about their cars.
  6. Everything here has relevance to every organization, even in the barest form of simply being aware of that Big Picture at a society level. That means education and awareness-raising, helping people understand it – particularly in contexts as well as in relevance to them – which will lead to knowledge. And who knows where that will take people and what it will enable them to do.

Much to learn from Gartner’s analyses and predictions.

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