Believe the hype... the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies
A view from Dino Burbidge

Believe the hype... the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies

Every August, tech-leaning types around the world get their very own Christmas - the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies...

…It plots emerging tech trends and hardware that you should probably know about, even if only to mention at dinner parties to avoid talking about Bitcoin, again. 

The curve is pretty practical. You start with a "curious thing" that’s sort of possible and plot its journey as people hear about it on Facebook, assume it will save the world, realise it won’t, figure out something about it is maybe useful, use it, then take it for granted. 

This is a constant cycle, as curious things ping on to the curve and shuffle towards fame (the "plateau of productivity") or wallow in obscurity (the "trough of disillusionment").

I use this curve a lot in presentations. However, there are a few conspicuous dots on the curve that haven’t really shuffled anywhere. Deep down, I know it’s because they can barely exist outside a lab, but a part of me would like to think it’s because we haven’t figured out anything funny to do with them yet. 

Allow me to start the ball rolling… 

Let’s start with the Dark Lord of the Gartner curve, Smart Dust. In a nutshell, it’s a bunch of sensors so small, they look like sand or dust. They can track pollution and take images or sense alcohol and cancer in the body. What would I use it for? Smart dog poo. 

First, you buy state-mandated smart-dust-infused dog food. The can is added to your purchase history (via a blockchain, obviously). When said dog "processes and deposits" the food, the smart dust sensors get to work tracking daylight, location, time and date. If it remains "at large", your local Park Keeper Bot automatically sends you a fine. 

Now to 4D printing. 4D printing is just 3D printing, except that, as each layer is created, stresses are added in various directions and areas. The resulting object is just like a 3D print but the magic happens when you add heat or a liquid that activates the stressed areas and warps the shape.

Your first thought may be to announce the end of Ikea flat-pack furniture, but flat-pack lifeboats are a worthier cause. Simply stack sheets of nascent boats on deck and when they hit the water… pop, lifeboats. 

Quantum computing sounds super cool and, well, it is. "Quantum" is science-speak for "weird stuff that happens when you muck about with particles". They can exist… or not… or maybe both… depends. The really cool thing is they use pairs of "entangled" particles to do this, and what you do to one particle happens to the other even if you separate them. Data in one place changes instantly in another place. That’s infinite broadband speed to you and me. 

We’ve all seen volumetric displays before. The easiest way to describe them is that Princess Leia "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!" thing projected by R2-D2 in Star Wars. A solid hologram without the need for AR glasses, VR headsets or messy occipital lobe implants in the brain. Super-sized volumetric displays will be able to project the 2034 World Cup from Mars Base Elon Musk 1 directly into football stadia on Earth, so you can watch it live, as though it was real, on another planet.

And finally, neuromorphic hardware. Whereas normal computers are glorified abacuses, neuromorphic computers are based on the neurons and synapses of the brain. Computations make artificial neurons fire like brain cells. The more that they fire in certain areas, the stronger the connections between them. We’re a little way off having the equivalent of our brain’s 100 billion neurons on a single chip but, when we do, we could essentially make a copy of our brain – memories, experiences, aspirations, the lot.

Simply spray light-emitting, voltage-sensitive algae into your brain and press "record". A clone "you" growing in a bath of goop nearby will receive the copied brain data… and you will live forever. Again.

OK, some of that may be a little wide of the mark but the 2018 Gartner Hype Cycle comes out this month, so now it’s your turn to have a go…

Dino Burbidge is director of technology and innovation at WCRS