radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

The Hype-Pile.

May 14, 2024

The other day, while going through the remaining pile of trend reports from earlier this year, something hit me: Virtually every report which has been published for a couple of years in a row, was more grandiose than the last. The visions for the future outlined in these reports weren’t just bold, they often crossed into the territory of hyperbole and, quite frankly, absurdity.

All of this reminded me of Cory Doctorow’s “enshittification”—the tendency of digital services to become less and less useful (to put it mildly) due to commercial market pressures. In the world of trend reports we face “the hype-pile”:

It all starts with a kernel of truth—a genuinely exciting development or possibility. This may be a (sometimes) brilliant insight into where the world, a market, or technology conceivably might go. But as market demands intensify due to the constant demand for novelty, the pile grows. More and more outlandish claims are added, each one more detached from reality than the last. Before you know it, you’re staring at a towering mound of hyperbole, wondering how things got so out of hand.

In this world of hype, it’s just not sexy to propose that things might take time and generally follow an S-curve—a model that acknowledges the reality of plateaus and diminishing returns. No, we want exponential growth! We want to believe that the good times will keep on rolling, that every year will bring a doubling of progress and potential.

So, what’s the solution? How do we escape the hype-pile and return to solid ground (and thus make better predictions about the future)? It starts with a willingness to embrace reality, even if it’s not as sexy as the alternative. It means having the courage to say, “You know what? My predictions from last year still stand and we just have to wait.” That’s not a failure—it’s a sign of a realistic, grounded approach.

In the end, the hype-pile is a tempting but treacherous place. It’s easy to get sucked in, but the rewards are fleeting and the risks are high. By staying focused on what really matters—the genuine advances and possibilities that are grounded in reality—we can navigate this terrain with confidence and clarity. It may not always be the most exciting path, but it’s the one that leads to real progress and meaningful change.

P.S. This is one of the reasons why we are such fans of MIT professor and founder of Rethink Robotics, Rodney Brooks. Not only does he avoid excessive hype, but he also remains grounded by regularly reviewing and scoring his previous predictions.