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Is AI Entering the Trough of Disillusionment?

If so, it’s a good thing.

In the realm of technology innovation, we often see journeys of hype and disillusionment. This journey is best visualized through the Gartner Hype Cycle, a graphical representation of the life cycle stages a technology goes through from conception to maturity and widespread adoption.

The Gartner Hype Cycle consists of five stages.

Each stage represents a specific phase of a technology's life cycle.

  1. The Technology Trigger – The Technology Trigger kicks us off when a potential technology breakthrough bursts onto the scene. Early news stories and demos create significant interest, but at this stage, you rarely see usable products or proven applications.

  2. The Peak of Inflated Expectations – Here, early success stories lead to significant publicity. However, many early products tend to over-promise and under-deliver. Several companies just don’t survive this phase.

  3. The Trough of Disillusionment This is where technology fails to meet its broad sweeping expectations and often moves out of the daily news cycle. However, this is the stage where real progress gets made because companies buckle down and refine their products.

  4. The Slope of Enlightenment – The Slope of Enlightenment is where the benefits of the tech become more widely understood and accepted.

  5. The Plateau of Productivity – Finally, the tech becomes mainstream and sees widespread adoption.

Now that you’ve got a handle on each stage of the Gartner Hype Cycle, let's talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

Is AI approaching the Trough of Disillusionment?

The Trough of Disillusionment bears a striking resemblance in name and purpose to the infamous 'Pit of Despair' from the beloved 1987 film, The Princess Bride.

In the movie, it’s the place where the hero (Wesley) endures hardships and the journey takes a bleak turn. However, it’s precisely here that Wesley discovers his true motivation. Armed with purpose, he moves on and preps to have fun storming the castle. Just as AI has already overcome formidable challenges, soon our trusted companion, Miracle Max, will remind us that AI is merely "mostly dead." 

Over 35 years since its release, the jokes in The Princess Bride remain relevant. Similarly, AI-enabled tools like OpenAI's ChatGPT, Google Bard, Meta LLAMA, and other large language models stand out from previous 'hyped' technologies. Why? 

Because these tools allow users to experience firsthand their practical utility. From acting as writing assistants to giving advice and even troubleshooting code, these AI tools have quickly become popular and mainstream.

Unlike blockchain, big data, or IoT – which while useful, don’t have the same broad application reach – AI's potential is tangible. Plus, there’s a lower barrier of entry for the average user. 

You don’t need to have deep technical knowledge to use AI. All you need to test it is a computer. Anyone can sign up for a free ChatGPT account and start using it within minutes.

With many companies touting AI’s potential to revolutionize industries, AI is treading water in a classic sea of over-promising and under-delivering. From autonomous vehicles to advanced robotics, the expectations are sky-high. And as inflated expectations push AI into the trough, we see more realistic views of its capabilities. That’s precisely why reaching this stage provides incredible value.

Why AI passing through the trough is a good thing

This doesn’t mean AI is no longer groundbreaking or innovative. Instead, it’s where real progress begins. As AI tech is refined and improved, more tangible and practical applications emerge. Companies will focus on specific use cases and solve real-world problems.

Instead of expecting AI to solve EVERY problem, developers can pinpoint exactly where it adds value.

The Trough of Disillusionment allows tech developers and the public to reflect and learn. Businesses can assess what went wrong with their initial AI implementations. Then, they can adjust their strategies accordingly. This leads to a more mature, practical, and responsible use of AI.

AI adoption crosses the Plateau of Productivity (aka lives happily ever after)

As we move through the Slope of Enlightenment toward the Plateau of Productivity, the general public will more widely understand and accept AI. And with increased education and understanding comes better integration into our daily lives.

So let's embrace this phase in the journey of AI. It may be the Trough of Disillusionment, but it is also a crucial step toward the widespread adoption and integration of this revolutionary technology in our society. The best is yet to come for AI.

Remember, OpenAI's ChatGPT was only released last November. It's not even a year old. But its impact is undeniable. In the context of the Gartner Hype Cycle, it may seem odd to say that a one-year-old technology is entering the Trough of Disillusionment, but such are the signs of rapid progress.

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