• 09.11.13

Autonomous Vehicles, Big Data, And 3-D Printing Are All Nearing The Top Of The Hype Cycle

Think 3-D printing and big data is a little overhyped? You’re not alone. Gartner’s annual Hype Cycle report reveals all the technologies that are at the “peak of inflated expectations”–and the technologies have already let us down.

Autonomous Vehicles, Big Data, And 3-D Printing Are All Nearing The Top Of The Hype Cycle
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

Is that new gadget you’re developing on the “Slope of Enlightenment”? See where it stands on Gartner’s annual Hype Cycle report, which identifies how close new technology is to coming to fruition.


Gartner, a technology research group that has been producing its hype schematic since 1995, says new technologies tend to follow a trajectory. First there’s a Trigger–a breakthrough that “kicks everything off.” Then, that technology invariably gets over-exposed, leading to a bubble of expectations. At that point, the whole thing implodes (think of what happened the first time around with “virtual reality”). There’s a over-reaction the other way, and everyone says the technology will never make it. And so on. Until, finally, the technology–which was a good idea to start with–takes its place in the “Plateau of Productivity.”

Themes this year include “bioacoustic sensing, quantified self, 3-D bioprinting, brain-computer interface, human augmentation, speech-to-speech translation,” and so on–which all fall under the category of technology that could help companies produce “more capable workforces.”

A second theme involves technologies that are actually replacing humans, like “volumetric and holographic displays, autonomous vehicles, mobile robots and virtual assistants.” A third group sees a more equal human-technology relationship, and includes “autonomous vehicles, mobile robots, natural language question and answering, and virtual assistants.”

“These three major trends are made possible by three areas that facilitate and support the relationship between human and machine,” says Hung LeHong, research vice president at Gartner. “Machines are becoming better at understanding humans and the environment–for example, recognizing the emotion in a person’s voice–and humans are becoming better at understanding machines–for example, through the Internet of things.”

The Hype Cycle has its holes. Not all technologies get over-hyped, fall into irrelevance, and then make it. Some just make it outright–or don’t. And Gartner’s theory is highly subjective: we could all place the same technologies in different places along the Hype Cycle. The company is hardly a disinterested observer: it manufactures hype itself, making the Hype Cycle seem quite meta.

But the chart does shed light on something that we often fail to see: technology rises and falls because of our belief in it.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.