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From Buzz to Bust: Investigating IT's Overhyped Technologies

CIOs are not immune to infatuation with the promise of emerging tech. Here, IT leaders and analysts share which technologies they believe are primed to underdeliver, offering advice on right-sizing expectations for each one.

Most CIOs and IT staffers remain, at heart, technologists, with many proclaiming their interest in shiny new tech toys. They may publicly preach “No technology for technology’s sake,” but they still frequently share their fascination with the latest tech gadgets. They’re not the only ones enthralled by tech.

With technology and tech news now both pervasive and mainstream, many outside of IT — from veteran board members to college-age interns — are equally enthusiastic about bleeding-edge technologies. But all that interest can quickly blow past buzz and hit hype — that is, the point where the technology gets seen more as a panacea for whatever plagues us rather than the helpful tool that it is. It’s then that the hopes for the technology get way ahead of what it can actually deliver today. 

“Nearly every new technology is naturally accompanied by hype and/or fear, but at the same time there is almost always a core of merit and business value to that new tech. The challenge is moving from the initial vision/promise stage, to broad commercial and consumer adoption and pervasiveness,” says George Corbin, board director at Edgewell Personal Care; former chief digital officer at Marriott and Mars Inc.; a faculty member at the National Association of Corporate Directors; and an active member of the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium community.

With that in mind, we asked tech leaders in various roles and industries to list what technologies they think are overhyped and to put a more realistic spin on each one’s potential. Here’s what they say on the topic.

1. Generative AI

Perhaps not surprisingly, generative AI tops the list of today’s overhyped tech. No one denies its transformative potential, but digital leaders say a majority of people seem to think generative AI, which Gartner recently placed at the peak of inflated expectations in its 2023 hype cycle, has more capabilities than it does — at least at this time.

Consider some recent survey findings. A July 2023 report from professional services firm KPMG found that 97% of the 200 senior US business leaders it polled anticipate that generative AI will have a huge impact on their organizations in the short term, 93% believe it will provide value to their business, and 80% believe it will disrupt their industry.

Yet most execs also admit they’re not ready to fully harness that potential. Another July report, the IDC Executive Preview, sponsored by Teradata, titled “The Possibilities and Realities of Generative AI,” found that 86% of the 900 execs it polled believe more governance is needed to ensure the quality and integrity of gen AI insights, with 66% expressing concerns around gen AI’s potential for bias and disinformation. Additionally, only 30% say they’re extremely prepared or even ready to leverage generative AI today and just 42% fully believe that they’ll have the skills in place to implement the technology in the next 6 to 12 months, among other issues their gen AI strategies face today.

At the same time, today’s hype may be distracting enterprise leaders from fully understanding how generative AI (also known as GAI) will evolve and how they can use that power in the future. “The anticipation and fear of the impact of generative AI in particular, and its relationship to artificial general intelligence (AGI), makes it overhyped,” says Daryl Cromer, vice president and CTO for the PCs and smart devices division at Lenovo.

This overhyped state, he adds, makes it “easy to be overly optimistic about what will happen this year and simultaneously understate what will happen in three to five years.” He says generative AI’s “potential is great; it will transform many industries. But it should be noted that digital transformation is complex and time consuming; it’s not like a firm can just take a GAI ‘black box’ and plug it into their business and achieve increased efficiency right away. There’s more likely to be a J-curve to ROI as a firm incurs expenses acquiring the technology and spends on cloud services to support it. Firms could even encounter pushback from affected stakeholders, like they are now with the case of film and television writers and actors.”

2. Quantum computing

Tech giants, startups, research institutions, and even governments are all working on or investing in quantum computing. There’s good reason for all that interest: Quantum computing uses quantum mechanics principles to perform calculations and, thus, is exponentially faster and more powerful than today’s computing capabilities. 

Yet it’s anyone’s guess when, exactly, this new type of computing will become operational. There’s even more uncertainty on when, and whether, quantum computing would become available for anyone outside the small circle of players already in the space today.

“People may think it’s going to replace [our classical computing] computers but it’s not,” at least in the foreseeable future, says Brian Hopkins, vice president for the emerging tech portfolio at research firm Forrester. Hopkins adds: “You see these big announcements from IBM or Google about quantum computing and people think, ‘Quantum is close.’ Those make great headlines, but the truth about quantum computing’s future is far more nuanced and [business leaders] need to understand that.”

Yet that isn’t holding back expectations. A 2022 survey of 501 UK executives by professional services firm EY found that 97% expect quantum computing to disrupt their sectors to a high or moderate extent, with 48% believing “that quantum computing will reach sufficient maturity to play a significant role in the activities of most companies in their respective sectors by 2025.” The EY survey also reveals how unprepared organizations are to meet what they believe is ahead: Only 33% said their organizations have started to plan to prepare for the technology’s commercialization and only 24% have set up or plan to set up pilot teams to explore its potential.

“People are aware quantum computing is coming, but I think there is an underestimation of what it will take [to leverage its power],” adds Seth Robinson, vice president for industry research at trade association CompTIA. “I think people think it’s just going to be a much more powerful way of running what we already have, but in reality what we have is going to have to be rewritten to work with quantum. You won’t be able to just swap out the engine. And it’s not going to turn into a product for the mass market.”

3. The metaverse — and extended reality in general

Although some of the excitement about the coming metaverse has died down, some say this concept remains overplayed. They’re skeptical of any claims that the metaverse will have us all living in a new digital realm, and they question whether the metaverse will have any big impact on daily life and everyday business anytime soon. Same goes for extended reality (XR) — that fusion of augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality.

“Virtual spaces provide a completely different experience, popularly known as an immersive experience for customers. However, in my opinion, the actual market potential may probably not be as big as it is being projected now,” says Richard August, managing partner for CIO Advisory Services at Tata Consultancy Services. “The number of use cases and utility values are limited, impacting the potential. Devices to support the ubiquity of these technologies such as VR sets are not available at a scalable, affordable price. Additionally, there have been several instances of negative health effects — such as fatigue, impact on vision and hearing — being reported by using the devices that support these technologies, which limits large-scale adoption.”

Forrester’s Hopkins voices similar caution on the technology’s uptake in the near term. “The form factors today aren’t enticing enough for people to adopt this new technology, so [adoption] is going to take longer than people may think,” he says. Hopkins says researchers do, indeed, see areas where the technology has taken off. Extended reality is useful in HR for training employees, and it provides value in industrial use cases where a digital overlay can guide workers through complex scenarios. “But that’s a pretty small slice of the overall opportunity,” he adds.

4. Web3: Blockchain, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies

Similar to their feelings about the immersive web, tech leaders say Web3 and its components — blockchain, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies — haven’t quite delivered on all their promises. “They just need to see more maturity before we invest in those things,” says Rebecca Fox, group CIO for NCC Group, a UK-headquartered IT security company.

Others have made similar observations. Corbin, for one, says blockchain has “huge business potential in smart contracts — supply chain transparency, healthcare, finance, currency, artwork, media, fraud prevention, IP protection, deep fake mitigation — but slow uptake on implementing.” He points out that it’s not as impenetrable as first promoted, and it’s hard to scale. Meanwhile, its decentralized nature coupled with a lack of regulation means that blockchain contracts are not legally recognized in most countries yet, he adds. Digital experts cite issues with other Web3 technologies, too, noting that most companies can’t figure out what to do with cryptocurrencies, for example, as they struggle with how to account for them and how to report them out to the street.

Furthermore, many people remain skeptical about cryptocurrencies and NFTs — especially after the past year’s headlines about crypto exchange problems and NFT devaluations. Advisers say CIOs should, thus, be mindful of the hype but nonetheless keep a watchful eye on the development of these technologies. “Though it’s in its early stages, we’re seeing lots of momentum behind the shift from Web2 to Web3 — and now Web4 — which will undoubtedly transform the way businesses operate, and how we own and transact property. It holds a lot of promise for the philosophical sense of property, ownership, and self-control of your identity inside the broader digital world at large,” says Jeff Wong, EY’s global chief innovation officer. He adds: “At this stage, Web3/4 is an idea that creates more questions than answers, but we think the questions are worth considering.”

Date: August 22, 2023

Author: Mary K. Pratt

Source: CIO