As we approach the end of the year and analysts and journalists sharpen their pens and gaze with steely concentration into the mists of 2018, we thought we would take a moment to reflect on the year and – for the moment – simply sift through the hype and ponder what has been the most overhyped technology of 2017.
When you ask most senior executives this question, there is generally a long pause. Or a laugh. As Jon Ross, COO of Openet says, “We are spoilt for choice.”
Ross did not choose 5G as his favorite overhyped technology. Instead, after a laugh – and a pause – he chose analytics.
His point is that analytics is simply not delivering against expectations. The theory is still good, and using analytics to enhance the customer experience makes sense. It is integral to the journey towards ‘proper’ personalized services. Yet even the very largest US carriers are simply getting no return on their investments in analytics. They are not even dealing with “big data lakes, more like big data swamps”, says Ross.
Ross is more upbeat about 5G and believes it will transform the way we live and work in “ways that we cannot even imagine”. In that respect, it will be as disruptive as 3G and the arrival of the iPhone. The change from ‘mobile telephone’ to ‘your entire digital life’ was a real step change, and it took several years for users to get to grips with this idea. Now, of course, our ‘phone’ has become an extension of ourselves.
In fact, it seems that the backlash against the 5G hype might be wrong. The cynics are retreating, and it seems that 5G might even be with us earlier than we thought, in some form.
Artificial intelligence is, most agree, caught between the reality and hype. Fully conscious AI – the type that keeps Elon Musk awake at night and plotting his escape plans to Mars – is still years away. The type that looks things up really fast and provides answers based on the information available and the context (to a certain degree) is here, and has been for a while. Disruptive.Asia editor John Tanner opined that AI is perhaps three to five years away from being the game changer people imagine – “Here in 2017, too many companies have too loose a definition of what counts as AI, and the market is awash with products that are supposedly AI-powered, when all they do is remember basic patterns or automate certain functions.”
NFV was also on some people’s lists of overhyped technologies – not in terms of what it will deliver, more in terms of timelines and expectations, which seems to be endemic in the tech industry. There is little doubt that it is definitely the way to go.
There are also less obvious challengers for the coveted Most Overhyped Technology award. One such is microservices.
Not that Dominic Smith, marketing director with BSS specialist Cerillion, doesn’t think it has a future, “it’s just how quickly it has been hyped and apparently implemented! Almost nobody in telecoms was talking about this a year ago, but over the past six to nine months, it has started springing up everywhere and there are many vendors now shamelessly working it into their marketing collateral.” This may sound familiar to industry cynics, but, says Smith, “some are claiming their systems are based on a microservices architecture despite it being a fundamental shift that would take rather longer than a few months to change.” Smith is convinced that microservices will be an important technology change, but thinks “people are kidding themselves (and trying to fool everyone else too) if they think it’s an overnight change.”
For experienced BSS consultant Robert Machin, there is also plenty of choice for overhyped tech. “The stuff that continues to deliver plenty of sizzle but very little sausage has to include 5G, AI and VR.” Machin would reluctantly discount 5G as it’s not actually been launched yet, “but VR headsets seem to be in every petrol station that I visit, so perhaps that counts as a success.” Machin would also settle for “AI and its partner in crime, big data. I am not saying there’s nothing in either of them, but so much of what gets labelled as AI just seems to me to be what in olden times we would have called ‘data processing’.” Machin does not see much evidence of machine learning, and “even the internet gorillas, with money to burn and a real interest in making AI work seem content to see their apps respond with all the sophistication of a not-very-bright two year old.”
Tanner agrees, and believes that “for now, VR is great for things like amusement parks, theatres and major sports events. But until the headsets become mobile and comfortable, and until more content is available, it’s still in novelty territory – just like 3D TV a few years ago. And how many of us still watch 3D TV? VR probably has more of a future than 3D TV, but all those claims about virtual utopias where people can sit at home and have virtual dinners in the Taj Mahal? Ha ha. No.”
Tanner is also cynical about self-driving cars, mainly – again – because of the hype versus the over-optimistic timescales. “They have come a long way,” says Tanner, “and may arrive sooner than we thought, at least in limited forms like robo-taxi services. But they’re way overhyped in terms of capability and their impact on safety. V2X networks supporting autonomous vehicles are still several years away from meaningful commercial deployment. Meanwhile, self-driving cars won’t make driving statistically safer as long as there are still human drivers around to make things unsafe. And given how long people tend to keep their cars before buying a new one, it will be a very long time before autonomous cars outnumber human-driven cars.”
Indeed, the danger of human drivers is such a concern that recently, Waymo decided it was safer to even exclude human intervention from autonomous cars, as human nature dictates that if ‘someone else’ is driving, you should be free to play with your phone, gaze out of the window or annoy the driver. Doing any of those things mean that if you are suddenly asked to take over, the reaction time is way too long to make any difference.
The real reality is that all (or most) of the technologies that are being hyped at the moment, will ultimately click into place in the digital jigsaw, and actually the main ‘overhype’ is around time frames. And hyping time frames is understandable because vendors can use it to generate interest, excitement and therefore investment in their chosen area. This inevitably means that there will be resentment when the actual time frames are clearly wildly different from the PR ones.
The real issue is the extent of the technology invasion that is happening. The truly interesting (and – to some – scary) issue is what happens when technologies click together in ways that we haven’t thought through. VR and 5G will create unparalleled opportunities for virtual meetings, demonstrations and presentations. 5G, AI (the emerging conscious kind), drones and military capabilities will combine to create who knows what kind of potential that will be used for good and/or evil.
Whatever lies ahead, it is safe to say that we will continue to live in interesting times for a few years yet.