Beware of forecasts of immediate massive change for no doubt they’re wrong!

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Dennis Simanaitis, Engineering Editor for Road & Track magazine from the end of the 1970s to 2012, filled my casual reading with delicious stories galore of the details of automobiles and internal combustion engines for most of that career. Afterward, he began to blog, most recently penning a piece on premature requiems for the internal combustion engine.

That judgment may annoy folks seeking a transportation revolution, major positive environmental changes, a complete restructuring of the automotive world, a major step-change in the role of artificial intelligence in our lives and new killer investment opportunities. Most of these aspirations for humanity are just that – wishes and hopes at least in the short term.

Eventually? Eventually can be a long, long way away. Or it might be around the corner. But we’re not ready for this transformation, and it will be a long and painful gestation period before the vision is ultimately delivered. If it is. 

Back in 2014, manufacturers and startups were predicting that by now, 2019, we would see volume production and sales of autonomous autos able to navigate the highways, byways and streets of this world without human intervention. After all, DARPA’s Grand Challenge had kicked off a frenzy of innovation ten years earlier, in 2004. And it couldn’t take more than 15 years to achieve the desired nirvana. Right?

Wrong!

The boosters were there, priming the research and development, the public forums, the technology supply chain, the venture community and so forth. 

The deep problems are just that – deep problems. We don’t know how to build artificial intelligence technologies and all the other non-AI technologies needed to get to a million autonomous cars on the road anytime soon. Maybe not 100,000. Or one thousand, at least not this year.

And it’s likely to be at least 30 more years before 80% of the entire automotive rolling stock of most developed nations is rid of internal combustion engines.

This is relevant to you and everyone else looking at technology, including IT (and the subset known as artificial intelligence technologies.)

It’s a familiar story, and our journey through the world of IT is just as plagued with overly optimistic forecasts (and supremely biased surveys.)

I recall writing about IT industry hype 25 years ago, in 1994, trying to warn clients about the intensity of the flack – er, of industry hype – that was constantly raining down on them (and us in the industry.) 

The industry needs hype to get buyers to consider entirely new ways of doing things. But buyers need to plan on technology diffusion cycles that last 10 to 30 years from first availability of an offering to 80 percent penetration. After all, technology is never right the first time. And it takes more than three versions to get it right! Buyers have investments in installed technologies. (A saying in the industry is it took God 7 days to create the universe – but he didn’t have a prior legacy to deal with.) Finally, lest we forget, there are usually non-technical changes in society, regulation, taxation and economics that can impede progress with new technologies.

I hear people say, “it’s different now.” Really? Not in my experience. IT buyers aren’t buying crockpots. All of these technologies have to work together. Standards and regulation emerge and evolve slowly. Data sources and structures evolve. There’s little magic here.

None of this is to say don’t invest in AI. Timing is everything. The technology continues to evolve rapidly.

Action

Do not:

  • Wait for AI to “mature.” I don’t see maturity setting in for decades or centuries. If you wait for AI to mature, you’ll be dead first.
  • Get too far ahead of what’s real. I continue to see massively hyperbolic claims by various industry executives with extremely long noses.

Do:

Start with an understanding of the current state of the art in both the technology and adoption within your industry. Craft a business strategy that addresses corporate strategic needs. And execute — not too soon, not too late. Develop a “Goldilocks” style timing sense.

If you can exploit the hype to motivate your organization to get moving in a new direction, do it. But make sure you understand the liabilities of jumping too early (and the pain associated with jumping in too late.)

Goldilocks timing is key. (More on this issue in an upcoming post.)

If you can see it, touch it, poke at it and feel it in live production in situations very similar to your own, begin to proceed. Demonstrations, pilots and prototypes are not enough. You need confidential discussions with other customers, not NDA briefings from vendors. 

Disclosure: The views and opinions in this analysis are my own and do not represent positions or opinions of The Analyst Syndicate.  Read more on the Disclosure Policy.

Disclosure

The views and opinions in this analysis are my own and do not represent positions or opinions of The Analyst Syndicate. Read more on the Disclosure Policy.

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