Thoughts based on: Svetlana Sicular and Kenneth Brant (2018): Hype Cycle for Artificial Intelligence 2018, Gartner.
PRESSURE TO ADOPT NEW TECHNOLOGY
Sometimes we come under great pressure to adopt new technology or processes whether at home or at work. This brief analysis will deal simply with a typical work culture. Why would people adopt new technologies? Here are three popular (yes slightly extreme) examples I’ve thought of from my own experiences.
TO BE AN EARLY ADOPTER – Socially motivated, many people want to signal how modern they are. They want to demonstrate intelligence by understanding a new technology much faster than others. Constantly recommending it to others is an opportunity to discuss it regularly and makes them feel self important. This person could be easily persuaded or influenced by a ‘thought leader’.
TECHNOLOGIST – A person who can only see the benefits of technology and constant innovation. Perhaps a touch naive with regards to what has gone before, perhaps a touch dismissive of tradition. They strongly recommend the new technology as they really believe in its ability – the problem is that they haven’t covered the full spectrum of usage examples – they have a combination of rose tinted glasses and a narrow perspective on what it means.
SHORT TERM THINKING – A competitive outlook often means a very short term focus without consideration of the larger implications. An example might be the usage of chatbots in customer support because the solution promised 20% faster solutions without thinking what this would do to customer happiness or satisfaction.
AVOIDING / COUNTERING THIS PRESSURE
The Gartner research paper uses whats known as the STREET model to enable a rational analysis of new technologies. No framework will be perfect in this regard as the level of complexity involves every meta factor from the state of politics, the countries GDP, the attitudes of the developers/creators of the technology and even general societal attitudes. Bitcoins rise in 2008/2009 was no coincidence off the back off a global market crash.
Here is my own version of how STREET could be summarised.
- Scope Stage: Here companies must take a really honest look at the direct impact the tech can make to the company. As many variables as possible must be considered and viewpoints from multiple areas in the organisation will be valuable and necessary. This is known in the framework as establishing context.
- Track Stage: An initial risk analysis is taken here as the place of the technologies maturity is considered in the hype cycle framework. An opportunity cost analysis must be made to ensure that this adoption will take priority over other potential developments in the company. Would could be lost if the turns out to be ineffective?
- Rank Stage: A slightly deeper form of analysis that prevents action and usage of resources before the company is ready to act.
- Evaluate Stage: A deep understanding of rewards and risks is gained here as the company begins prototyping and research.
- Evangelize Stage: The innovation is promoted internally and heralded for its potential benefits.
- Transfer Stage: The process of staff training and customer application begins to ensure a correct launch of the innovation.
This rationality involves taking time to walk through a multitude of steps from a multitude of different angles. To me it appears a very ‘UX’ type of problem where the experience or process must be considered in its entirety. Every single action has a cost and benefit.
Mentioned in the Gartner paper was a matrix where a qualitative attempt is made to rank impact as it relates to time and maturity. Key questions might be, “How long before this becomes industry standard” or “What are the costs to our bottom line or to our customers perceptions if we are late to market with this technology”.
Another simple framework that could be applied is the Lindy effect as popularised by NN Taleb. (https://medium.com/incerto/an-expert-called-lindy-fdb30f146eaf) The link is to a detailed medium post that also contains mathematical proofs of his conecpt. He defines it in the following way :
“The more an idea has been around without being falsified, the longer its future life expectancy. Only the nonperishable can be Lindy-compatible. When it comes to ideas, books, technologies, procedures, institutions, political systems, there is no intrinsic aging and perishability. A physical copy of War and Peace can age (particularly when the publisher cuts corner to save 20 cents on paper for a $50 book); the book itself as an idea doesn’t.”
In the world of software where the pace of change is much faster than hardware, the typical proclomation from a startup that might be heard is “we are going to disrupt x”. Disruption and the way it happens is anything but science yet certainly a huge factor to consider in the adoption of new technology. How did Uber alter the face of the taxi industry? How did AirBnB change the way we travel? The impossibility of predicting the eventual success of technologies makes the process feel futile at times I imagine! The most insightful view on this topic that I’ve come across is Paul Graham’s essay on how to start a start up (http://www.paulgraham.com/startupideas.html) For example “Hotmail began as something its founders wrote to talk about their previous startup idea while they were working at their day jobs.”!
DISADVANTAGES OF THIS APPROACH
Not every technology is a failure. Early adoption of a technology that succeeds can pay massive dividends financially or even career wise. It’s also much easier to justify scepticism towards everything new and then backtrack when something succeeds as the odds are in your favour of being right. But negativity can leave you stuck in your ways and prevent you regularly analysing things from the perspective above.