When did you first hear about 3D- printing?
That is, the device that builds small objects by extruding plastic string, which has avowed to change the whole industrial production of goods?
It could hardly be more than two or three years ago, unless you closely follow the tech field's publications from around the world.
Helsingin Sanomat, for example, published a longer article for the first time in the summer of 2012. Following that, expectations have been high for the new technology, with one article following the other.
In December, even oil company Shell's chairperson Jorma Ollila mulled over the technology in an interview with HS.
The long-term challenge is technological innovation, which is making breakthroughs in all fields. Of all technological innovations, Ollila considers the most significant to be robots, nanotechnology, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and 3D printing.
A person considering themselves aware of proportionality doesn't really understand.
Why has a robot that extrudes trivial plastic trash gathered so much media interest?
Disproportionate hype has, however, already achieved zenith with regards to 3D-printing.
Now at the top of the hype is the Internet of Things. At least, so claims consulting company Gartner in this year's report, which looks at Hype Cycles.
Gartner has published an annual report with new technological Hype Cycles for 20 years. The reports were devised to outline how new technologies and services grow from market hype and become a utility in mainstream business.
The idea was to follow how new technologies, services and trends develop over time, explains Gartner's head of research Betsy Burton on Talking Technology's audio-blog.
"We noticed quite quickly that whenever any technology or service develops, they all evolve in a similar manner. This always happens, were it a question of technique, or for example wireless services or infrastructure," explains Burton.
This led to the Hype Curve, which looks at media presence and the increase and decrease of expectations of different innovations. It often happens that when a new technology is released into a broader public audience, a snowballing effect takes place.
Curve to the top
All newspapers want to write about the topic that their competitors have already written about. This is how new technology rises to the top of the hype curve.
Old wisdom dictates, however, that the significance of new technology often is overstated over an interval of two years. On the other hand, their revolutionary effect on society over the next twenty years is frequently understated.
As such, hype resulting from oversized expectations is followed by a hangover. From published articles one might deduce that all the efforts put towards companies developing new technology are just a ludicrous way to gain business.
But in reality new innovations are ripe for the market only once they have been downplayed in public – that is, when people decide that "in fact, nothing came of this."
A company that has gotten stuck with old technology or an old business model could at this point potentially make its biggest error in assessment and imagine that the danger is over.
For example online shopping didn't threaten conventional shops for years, although it was a subject under plenty of discussion already by the 1990s.
Now the industry is threatened by international online shops. Domestic shopkeepers cannot sustain their business either on the street or online.
Within reach of the consumer
Some new innovations miss out on a great future. On the other hand, most hyped technology still gradually rises to the mainstream to a point where it is within the reach of the average consumer.
But is Gartner's hype curve more accurately considered as simply entertainment?
"I can't really take it seriously," says futurist Risto Linturi. He compares the hype curve to a theory on the diffusion of innovations, which communications researcher Everett Rogers presented in the beginning of the 1960s.
According to the theory, 2-3 per cent of the population are daring and educated Innovators. The group who follow the Innovators are the Early Adopters, at 10-15 per cent of the population. Because they are often popular and social, following them is an Early Majority, at around 30-35 per cent of the population.
A Late Majority forms a third of the population. They are usually sceptical towards new things and they often have a lower socioeconomic status.
Laggards make up 10-20 per cent of the population. They actively oppose new innovation.
"In the beginning, the inventors and experimenters embrace an idea. They act as excitation to external marketing and media. Of course they also speak about it because they are pioneers."
"Then we move to the early majority, who are significant in their numbers, but don't speak a lot about the subject," describes Linturi. "For inventors and experimenters a useless thing will also suffice. The ideas that fall off the hype curve are supposedly these," suspects Linturi.
The hype ends when mass media is no longer interested in the innovation.
The innovation is already familiar to the early majority. Innovators and experimenters have moved on to something new.
The laggards don't wake up to advertising, so they aren't a vital target group for the media, says Linturi.
"So I would describe the phenomenon with more curves and theories. But of course in the beginning there is always hype when it comes to any successful, and even unsuccessful, new idea," says Linturi.
The Internet of Things is at the top of the hype
• The Internet of Things usually means that embedded industrial equipment is connected to the web. Each embedded device gets its own IP address. This way, the equipment is easier to control and maintain.
• The idea was already presented in the beginning of the 1990’s, but it is only recently that technology makes it possible to be part of everyday life.
• There is a similar notion regarding the everyday object’s Internet. That means, for example, that your dog’s chain has an IP address. Once embedded, you will always know where your pet is. Car tyres can be equipped with an address, giving information on when they have worn out.
Following different trends
The media in Finland doesn't always follow sensations in, for example, the United States.
"3D-printing was a really hyped topic in the US, but not so much in Finland," Linturi points out.
"The phenomenon can be compared to the Internet in the 1990's – every minister was speaking about it in every speech. Every newspaper mentioned it in every issue, even though only a few thousand Finns were using the net simultaneously."
"3D-printing has a larger effect on society, but there is less talk about it," claims Linturi. He thinks that a certain amount of hype is necessary for things to move forwards.
"But you have to be careful in choosing topics and timing. I have tried to be more careful after the flying car episode. The timing wasn't right. Normally it has gone better."
Through his family business, Linturi invested in Californian Paul Moller's project, which was the development of a flying car.
In the beginning of the century, Linturi expected that Finnish skies would embrace flying cars in 3-7 years. But we haven't seen it so far.
Linturi wrote a report for a government committee on the future titled 'Finland's one hundred new possibilities'. He also compiled a metropolitan vision for automatic traffic. He enthused robot cars. Linturi admits that even they were hype reports.
"We are trying to give confidence to the idea that the world could look different in the future. And that we should put effort into new things. Above all, that relies on experimenters and innovators," says Linturi.
"And let's hope that people aren't put off too easily – although the message that nobody ever makes a mistake is really difficult to formulate."
Marko Hamilo – HS
Alicia Jensen – HT
© HELSINGIN SANOMAT
LEHTIKUVA / Jarno Mela