#06: Living Up to the Hype Cycle

Azeem Azhar is the Senior Advisor on AI to the CTIO of Accenture. He has invested in dozens of groundbreaking startups and runs the highly-cited newsletter, Exponential View. With a two-decade career in technology, Azeem joined us on the Future Forecast podcast to help us understand how technology is rapidly shaping our future.

As technology continues to develop at faster rates, society is growing accustomed to accelerated development and exponential technology. As outsiders looking in, we don’t often see the trial and error happening in labs across the world, but simply the shiny new piece of tech that is produced at the end. As a result, we have come to expect rapid technological development, and are wholly disappointed when these developments do not meet our expectations.  

What is all the hype about?

The hype cycle, a term coined by American IT firm Gartner, is used to explain the lifecycle of certain technologies, and can help us understand how rapid technology growth has become so normalized. Represented by a curve with a high spike and slow plateau, the hype cycle follows technology through five phases as it matures.

A “technology trigger” or potential technology breakthrough kicks the hype cycle off – at this point, buzz around the prospect of new technology begins to build and our graph begins a rapid climb. Next comes the height of excitement surrounding the technology, represented by the peak of the graph.

Media hype surrounding the new tech may have led to inflated expectations by the public. After this spike, comes an expeditious decline in excitement (and our graph) when the product fails to deliver as promised. Consumers and investors alike become disillusioned and skeptical of the product.

However, after expectations lower and the technology is more widely understood, our graph begins to climb again – this time very slowly. Until finally, a plateau is reached. Here, the product reaches maturity and more mainstream adaptation of the tech begins to take off.

As a society, we have gone through the hype cycle with many cutting-edge technologies including cloud storage, AI and virtual reality.

Open source is the future

While the hype cycle may be able to explain why we have become so accustomed to rapid technological growth, how is that growth happening?

Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns state that the more information we have, the more advanced technology we have, and the more we collaborate, the faster we are able to develop.

This law is being played out all over the globe. In Ireland, a 17-year-old girl created an AI system that can identify cervical cancer cells. She did so by using a mathematical technique that had exclusively been used in Stanford University labs only four years earlier.

Because of open source software and communities, this girl was able to access the technique in order to create lifesaving technology. Azeem tells us, in 1989 that same information may have taken 12 years to disperse. Put simply, open source coding is changing our future.


  • Listen to the Future Forecast episode with Azeem Azhar to hear more about how technological developments are shaping the future of business, politics and the economy: