There is a full pipeline of emerging technologies that could change the way companies do business, but the pace of adoption is very much an open question. A new report from Gartner Research Inc. finds some order amid the chaos, gauging which technologies are most likely to enter the mainstream in the near-term and long-term. First up: virtual reality, with some forms of artificial intelligence, augmented reality and blockchain a few steps behind.
The report, the Gartner Emerging Tech Hype Cycle, identifies and tracks 32 emerging technologies that could help technology executives deliver competitive advantage over the next decade, and assesses when they’re likely to enter the market. The results are based on a study of more than 2,000 technologies.
“Innovation isn’t a steady line that moves upwards,” said Mike Walker, research director at Gartner. “It goes in peaks and valleys, and you’ll see a spur of innovation that’s going to cause a trigger in the marketplace or rapid advancement.”
The report charts the technologies by years out until mass adoption as well as their perceived stage of use within enterprises, from the technology breakthrough, classified by Gartner as the Innovation Trigger, through the last two stages leading towards mass adoption: Slope of Enlightenment and the Plateau of Productivity. Midway between discovery and adoption sit the Peak of Inflated Expectations, where early publicity produces hype around the technology, and the Trough of Disillusionment, where interest wanes as some experiments fail to deliver, according to Gartner. Technologies can move through the cycle at varying paces.
Furthest along Gartner’s Hype Cycle is virtual reality. More companies are beginning to see the potential benefits of developing immersive digital experiences using virtual reality headsets for both consumers and employees, according to the report.
While conservative companies remain cautious about experimenting with the technology, Mr. Walker said some companies are experimenting with ways to use it to their benefit. The overall benefit of virtual reality is expected to be moderate and the technology is expected to reach mainstream adoption within two to five years, according to the Gartner report.
Specific types of artificial intelligence could cross the chasm from inflated expectations to mainstream adoption two and five years, according to the report. Those include deep learning and machine learning. Deep learning tools include neural networks, software whose structure roughly tries to mimic the human brain’s operations. Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence that enables computers to learn from data with minimal programming.
Cognitive expert advisors, such as artificial intelligence software aimed at helping doctors recommend cancer treatments, could also reach mainstream adoption within two to five years, Mr. Walker said. He expects those types of AI to be widespread in all sectors during that timeframe.
“There’s no industry that’s immune,” he said.
Commercial drones are also nearing mainstream adoption within two to five years, and the technology has passed the inflated expectations stage and is prime for experiments and implementations, according to the report.
Augmented reality, which superimposes digital content including hologram-like images onto a user’s view of the real world, is poised to have a high benefit to companies but is still about five to 10 years away from being widely adopted, Mr. Walker said. It’s in the “trough of disillusionment” stage on Gartner’s Hype Cycle, which means interest has waned and some experiments have failed to deliver and companies now have a more realistic expectation of the technology.
However, companies continue to experiment with its uses specifically in manufacturing and assembly. Siemens AG, for example, told CIO Journal recently about its plans for expanding testing on a futuristic augmented reality helmet in assembling gas turbines. Mainstream adoption of augmented reality could be imminent, Mr. Walker said, as more companies develop augmented reality experiences with Apple Inc.’s augmented reality platform, released in June.
“All it takes is a couple vendors that have deep penetration in the marketplace to make those advancements (and) we’ll see those market adoptions,” Mr. Walker said.
Other emerging technologies, such as blockchain, are poised to be transformational for companies but could take between five and 10 years to become widely adopted. Blockchain is a data structure that makes it possible to create a digital ledger of transactions and share it among a distributed network of computer and known by many as the technology underpinning the bitcoin digital currency. Like commercial drones, blockchain has also passed the Peak of Inflated Expectations stage.
Quantum computing made it on this year’s Hype Cycle report for the first time, mainly because major technology companies have begun to invest significant amounts of money in developing quantum computing devices and companies are in the early stages of experimenting with it, Mr. Walker said. It’s at the “innovation trigger” stage, where early proof-of-concept stories and media interest have triggered publicity, and it’s on the verge of inflated expectations, according to the report.
Quantum computers use quantum binary digits, or qubits, which represent and store information in both 0s and 1s simultaneously. The computers have the potential to sort through a vast number of possibilities — more than the number of atoms in the universe— to come up with a probable solution. The calculations could be completed as fast as a fraction of a second, though no scalable, fault-tolerant quantum computer has been built yet.
Mr. Walker predicts quantum computing could have a high benefit to businesses, but it’s still more than a decade away from being widely adopted. This year, biotechnology and automobile manufacturers are among the companies that have announced their experiments with quantum computing.
“It’s waiting for its breakout moment,” Mr. Walker said. “It’s got the opportunity to be highly transformational in how we define and think about computing, however, we’ve got to temper that excitement.”
Smart dust, which are tiny wireless micro-electromechanical systems that can detect measurements such as light and temperature, is at the earliest stage of the Hype Cycle and more than 10 years from becoming widely adopted.