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Hyper Hyper – A Story Of Loops And Cycles

Just my luck…

A couple of years ago, I was due to give a presentation about blockchain and regulation. It was at the height of the ICO frenzy and blockchain was the solution to every problem there was and would be.

Few things were hotter and even though I wasn’t going to talk about the exciting part of things (yet, very relevant as no one will be able refuse to say with hindsight), I was looking forward to it. Sure, people weren’t very fond about hearing about warning, applying caution and the differences between a security and utility token. Still, I felt good about the presentation that I was about to deliver. Until I listened to the presentation of the guy that went on before me. He was talking about the hyper loop project and all its possibilities, unless people appeared to look at it as a done deal. There were pictures of a capsule that looked like a rocket and moved only slightly slower and of Elon Musk.

You may have heard stories of comedians or musicians going on stage after someone else had just blasted the audience away, knowing that the only was down from there. Yet, they have to go on and swallow the bitter pill of just having been assigned an unfortunate slot.

It felt a little bit like that but to be honest I was a bit wowed, too, so I just went on and delivered my talk even if I did know that people would be a little bit less interested than before. Assuming, of course, that they had some interest to start with.

However, fast forward a couple of years and we have all learned a few things. Law and regulation in the blockchain space are real thing even if many people back in the day wouldn’t believe it (and less considered it in their actions) and got carried away by the prospect of getting rich quick.

The other thing is – as we have learned last week – that even though it sounded it like a great idea, the Hyperloop dream didn’t work out as planned.

The story of Hyperloop One

Hyperloop One, initially inspired by Elon Musk’s visionary concept, aimed to transform travel by significantly reducing journey times. This bold endeavor, once backed by Virgin’s Richard Branson, now faces a downturn with Branson’s withdrawal last year. Bloomberg reports that the company, navigating a challenging path, plans to lay off its remaining workforce by the year’s end. The project’s ambition was to revolutionize transit using magnetic levitation technology within vacuum tubes, promising speeds of about 700 mph, i.e., more than 1,000 km/h thanks to reduced friction and air resistance. Touted as an eco-friendlier option to current high-speed transport, it stumbled over engineering and logistical hurdles, including the construction of extensive straight-line tubes. In a way it sounded like a great idea, but I have to admit that for decades I have been fascinated by the potential of large airships and that has not turned out quite as envisaged yet.

Hyperloop One’s journey witnessed a brief moment of triumph in 2020 with a successful 107mph test run over 500m, carrying two employees. However, facing realities, the firm pivoted in 2022, shifting its focus from passenger to cargo transport, leading to significant job cuts.

The year also saw Branson exit, impacting the company’s trajectory and Virgin’s endorsement. The company’s story intertwines with controversies, including legal troubles of a past director and misconduct allegations against an investor.

It surely isn’t the end of the story for the concept of the hyperloop. Yet, it shows the value of hype cycles.

The pros and cons of hype cycles

It surely isn’t the end of the story for the concept of the hyperloop. Still, it shows the nature and value of hype cycles and that’s what I automatically had to think of when I read about it.

According to the Wordspy, the Hype Cycle was devised by Jackie Fenn back in 2001, who was an analyst at the US research firm Gartner Group. The objective appeared to be to demonstrate what happens when cutting-edge new technologies are introduced.

In the early days of mainstream internet, few people will have heard of it, but today the Gartner Hype Cycle is an established tool in the tech industry and I suppose we could say that is a valuable tool for anyone interested in innovation and new technologies. And that’s the case for several reasons: for me it offers a pragmatic overview of the evolving landscape of different technology trends. It sheds light on the maturity, adoption, and practical application of emerging technologies, providing a more or less realistic gauge of their readiness for implementation.

Apparently one of its key benefits lies in its utility for risk management, helping to discern between genuinely promising technologies and those that are over-hyped and that is particularly valuable for avoiding investments in technologies that may not yield the anticipated returns or may not be ready for widespread adoption.

Naturally, there is no shortage of criticism: To begin with its name is misleading as it is not a cycle but a curve. Not getting carried away by semantics, it does have a tendency to generalize technologies, which may not accurately capture the unique stages of each technology’s development. This generalization can lead to an oversimplified view of complex technological landscapes.

The Hype Cycle is also more descriptive than predictive. It outlines the maturity and adoption phases of technologies but falls short in accurately forecasting their success or failure. This descriptive nature limits its utility as a predictive tool for technology outcomes.

Furthermore, subjectivity also plays a role in the Hype Cycle. The positioning of technologies on the cycle is based on Gartner’s analysis, which may not always resonate with or reflect diverse industry perspectives. This subjective interpretation can skew its applicability across different sectors. Plus, they are sometimes behind the curve (no pun intended) as it often is a delayed representation of emerging technologies. Some innovations only appear on the Hype Cycle once they’ve gained noticeable visibility, which might delay recognition of newer or more niche developments.

The bottom line

However, what you make of it is eventually down to every him or herself. You may believe in the potential of a trend, the accuracy of hype cycles or curves. You may disregard it all as generalizing nonsence, only useful to create headlines and fake importance of innovative technologies and expertise about them. Or you use it as any tool, with the knowledge that each has its benefits and downsides and that there are (at least) two sides to each story. Then it can be of great utility. That is, if you don’t let yourself get carried away, of course. But sometimes that’s the beauty of a hype.