TLDR: Over the last few weeks, sentiment towards AI has shifted from optimism to fatigue. On the Gartner Hype Cycle, AI is now entering the “Trough of Disillusionment,” a phase where hype-driven expectations have been left unmet. But while it’s easy to dismiss AI in the short term, history has shown that those who continue to experiment with new technology as it approaches the “Slope of Enlightenment” and eventual “Plateau of Productivity” will greatly benefit in the long term.

Welcome to the Trough of Disillusionment.

Wow, that was quick!

In the course of a week, I’ve started to see the bright lights shift from optimism to fatigue. LinkedIn, Twitter, National News Media, colleagues, friends, and family are all starting to roll their eyes at any discussion of AI. This is predictable, natural, and ok.


“It’s perfectly normal
to be skeptical.”


The AI hype has been a bit omnipresent. Hyperbole or not, the idea that AI is the next big step for humanity is being tossed around. It’s perfectly normal to be skeptical. It’s also predictable that the hype can not deliver the promise in the short term.


AI has achieved a lot in the last 6 months.

GPT-4, Bard, Midjourney, and Adobe Firefly have taken exponential leaps forward – with outputs almost indistinguishable from magic. People are concerned about the route this “choose your own adventure” AI will take from the incredibly positive (think cancer cures) to the extremely negative (think Terminator AI soldiers). It’s easy to dismiss this in the short term because the crystal ball is cloudy today.

We’ve been pretty bad at predicting the future when it comes to AI. We predicted we’d see factory AI robots first and AI creative last. It’s actually been inverted.

We’ve entered a new phase of the technology Hype Cycle called the Trough of Disillusionment.


Hype Cycle


This was developed by Gartner in 1995 and has been consistently used to monitor the phases of technological introduction to adoption. It’s pretty bang on when we look at the current phase of AI.


Peak of Inflated Expectations

We’ve had our Trigger event; In late November last year, ChatGPT was released to the world and it was the fastest technology to reach a million users in history. From December to June, we’ve gone up the curve toward the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” What have we been told? The world is going to be changed forever. White-collar jobs are going to be replaced. A million new AI software tools are being launched weekly.


Trough of Disillusionment

Now we’ve reached or have passed the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” Interest is starting to wane because the expectations of the hype aren’t being met. I think we’re now just entering the downward slope to the “Trough of Disillusionment.”

For example, I saw a post by MOPs meme master Jason Raisleger and the gist was, “OK, OK, I know I’m using ChatGPT wrong.” And today I woke up and read a newspaper opinion piece titled, “Will AI really change everything? Not likely.” It concludes with, “So the next time you hear a platitude spoken in the worship of AI, feel free to roll your eyes.” Even when technology moves fast, and AI definitely has, we humans can be predictably impatient.


“Those who continue to experiment
will benefit in the long term.”


Some people are getting to the trough quicker than others. But history has shown that those who stick around and continue to experiment and iterate with the technology will benefit in the mid and/or long term.


Slope of Enlightenment

The “Slope of Enlightenment” happens when the ways the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallize. Think internet and e-commerce in the late 90s and social media and targeted social ads in the late 00s. It takes a while for new technology to demonstrate its commercial value. Social ads were pretty effective at targeting up until we asked apps to stop tracking us on our phones.


Plateau of Productivity

The final stage in the Gartner Hype Cycle is the “Plateau of Productivity.” This is when the benefits, applicability, and relevance of the technology are very clear and investments are paying off. You can argue about if and when this is going to take place, but it is ultimately a predicted path for the future of AI.

You could even say that Adobe’s Firefly AI product, released in beta in Photoshop, is already approaching the plateau. There is no doubt that for creatives, the Slope of Enlightenment has been embarked upon. And while not everyone is a creative, I encourage you to ask an art director about AI – ask them if they think this is a fad.


The Route We’re Taking at RP

Our crystal ball, like at most times, is cloudy and unclear. What is predictable, though, is our behavior and impatience. The Hype Cycle helps us understand that this is what we do.

While some may pack up their AI enthusiasm for now, that’s not the route that we’re choosing to take at RP. We’re going to continue to learn, experiment, and iterate with AI. It’s probable that AI will impact our work and our client’s work for the foreseeable future. We’re going to push through the Trough of Disillusionment for the promise of the Slope of Enlightenment.

We hope to see you along the way, but we can always catch up at the Plateau of Productivity.