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3 Critical Trends in the 2021 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies


2021’s emerging technologies hype cycle featured Non-fungible tokens (NFTs), digital humans, and physics-informed AI among the 25 technology profiles.

The Gartner Hype Cycle highlights the 25 breakthrough technologies it projects will profoundly affect business, culture, and society within the next two to ten years.

“Breakthrough technologies are continually appearing, challenging even the most innovative organizations to keep up,” says Brian Burke, Gartner Research Vice President. “Your focus on digital business transformation means you must accelerate change and cut through the hype surrounding these technologies.”

Gartner selected the technologies featured in the 2021 Hype Cycle for their potential transformational benefits and broad potential impact. These technologies fall under three main themes:
Engineering trust
Accelerating growth
Sculpting change

Let’s take a closer look at just three innovative technologies within Gartner’s three themes predicted to make big waves in the near future.

Engineering trust in emerging technologies

Whether NFTs—non-fungible tokens—will revolutionize how we invest or whether they will prove to be a very expensive flash in the pan remains to be seen. Although the technology has existed since 2014, NFTs have only recently entered the mainstream. NFTs are unique digital assets that link to real-world assets such as digital art, music, or tokenized physical assets like cars or real estate. Like cryptocurrencies, NFTs are bought and sold in the online world and are stored in a blockchain. Most NFTs are located in Ethereum blockchain, but others can support NFTs as well.

However, unlike cryptocurrencies, NFTs each have a unique value and its own code. An NFT is not traded for another NFT the way an investor might trade one bitcoin for another. NFTs had their best year ever in 2021, generating a trading volume exceeding $23 billion. There is an infinite supply of many digital creations, but NFTs create scarcity by their very nature, which has led to some remarkable purchase prices.

Mike Winklemann, better known as the digital artist Beeple, created an NFT composed of 5,000 images. In the spring of 2021, the auction house Christie’s announced that not only would it begin accepting cryptocurrency, but it would also offer Beeple’s NFT. The NFT in question sold for more than $69 million.

NFTs are a dynamic addition to the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2021 and are rapidly forming part of an entirely new digital ecosystem. Anyone can view the images from Beeple’s work, entitled “EVERYDAYS: The First 5000 Days,” for free. But the allure when it comes to things like artwork seems to be in the proof of ownership. Owners have the rights to the original work, and authentication is built into the blockchain.

Where NFTs go from here is uncertain. Many are essentially digital collector’s items since there can only be one owner at a time. While many appear willing to outlay vast sums for many NFTs, it’s not yet clear whether their function will change in the future.

Accelerating growth in emerging technologies

Digital twin technology is not a new concept and has existed in some format for decades. At its simplest, a digital twin is a virtual construct of a physical thing, like an engine or a bike. However, digital human technology represents a potential revolution in the making. Gartner has been watching digital twin technology as one of its top ten trends for several years now and is predicting that digital human technology will soon see explosive growth in various sectors.

Digital human technology takes digital twinning to the next level by creating a virtual self that digitally mimics the physical body. While many use cases are beginning to integrate digital human twins, many experts predict the healthcare industry will see phenomenal growth as it turns to digital twins and AI. Many believe that digital human technology will continue to improve in scope and complexity within the next few years, allowing medical professionals to help patients treat and manage health conditions. Researchers may also be able to map and explore the human body beyond the current limitations of medicine.

Beyond the scope of healthcare and medicine, digital human technology also holds the intriguing potential for people to create virtual extensions of themselves. These extensions could potentially hold meetings and even make decisions in the virtual world on our behalf. And some people are exploring the ethical issues surrounding the creation of a human digital twin for a person who is deceased. As the technology supporting digital human twins accelerates, so do the possibilities for utilizing it.

Sculpting change in emerging technologies

While it may seem counterintuitive, understanding how AI can distinguish between one item and another is not always clear-cut. Researchers are turning to physics-informed AI (PIAI) and physics-informed neural networks (PINNs), using physics models to explain the processes and place realistic boundaries on AI outcomes. Researchers in the industry have frequently described artificial neural networks (ANNs) as virtually black boxes, where processes leading to output are unknown even to the designers and heavily dependent on vast quantities of data.

Bottlenecks to progress have occurred because AI processes remain frustratingly opaque and require large amounts of data. By applying physics models to AI, developers are solving the issue of unpredictable outcomes and mysterious processes by tying physics laws to the process. This can also drive functionality without the need for a large amount of data and shines a light into the black box. ANNs cannot make predictions in areas for which they have no data, but PIAI can bridge that gap. PIAI could lead to what some are calling ‘gray boxes,’ which meld ANNs with PINNs in a complementary role. Combining these approaches could result in an incredibly fast and adaptive network that can continue to train and refine as data is added.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle highlights trust, growth, and change in emerging technologies

While predicting the future is always a bit of a gamble, it’s clear that NFTs, digital human twins, and PIAI are compelling examples of innovative tech trends. Gartner’s Hype Cycle carefully screens and curates the latest in tech news and developments to highlight exciting developments that have the potential to change the world. Staying on top of these changes can be the difference-maker in developing a winning business strategy.

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