Run Down by a Hype Cycle

October 9, 2013

I always thought that a hype cycle was one of those two-wheeled affairs favoured by middle-aged men in lycra that sell at the same price as a family saloon, but still require you to use pedals. It seems I was wrong (or at least only half right). Gartner’s Hype Cycle looks at new technologies and the way in which they travel through a cycle from ‘innovation trigger’, through the ‘peak of inflated expectations’, the ‘trough of disillusionment’ and the ‘slope of enlightenment’ to the ‘plateau of productivity’. You can view the general 2013 hype cycle {here:} and the social software hype cycle {here:}.

One thing that strikes me is the fact that some of the major concerns of {i}Computers & Law{/i} and this web site are still some way from the plateau of productivity. In particular, Big Data is thought to be 5 to 10 years away from the plateau and Cloud Computing is 2 to 5 years away. Of the various developments that give rise to the technical/legal articles that we offer, only predictive analytics (which is embodied in predictive coding) is plateauing (in the very positive sense of realising productive value). But what struck me most vividly was the awful burden that we face in trying to keep up to date. Just between you and me, I don’t know what ‘bioacoustic sensing’ is.

As IT lawyers will know only too well, there is a big difference between the date when productivity gains are realised and the dates when technologies are first implemented. The tricky thing is that IT lawyers are expected to know the nuts and bolts of everything that has reached the Peak of Inflated Expectations as well as all the nuts, bolts, screws, washers and alternative open-source versions of all the things that are IT-related but have flown off the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ into mainstream e-commerce and the like. So you are allowed to forget nothing but you still have to master the new.

Obviously, you get little sympathy. It is true that you chose this area of specialisation because of an interest in technology or because you thought it would be cool. But clients do not realise that you don’t just have to keep in touch with developments in leading-edge technology, you have to know what emanates from the Chancery Division, the TCC, Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels, ICANN, WIPO and numerous courts in the USA and beyond. Have you seen the latest data protection developments in Thailand? The latest ruling from some patent court in a part of Germany you have never heard of? That’s probably No and No. And you claim to be an IT lawyer!

I have sympathy. I am finding the implacable torrents of the new difficult to cope with – as someone who has just completed a trip through France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland and found himself ordering coffee in a Swiss bar in Spanish, I admit to being easily confused. It is just not humanly {i}possible{/i} to keep up with the law and all the new developments and have a decent family life. And, until Human Augmentation kicks in (at least 10 years off according to the Hype Cycle), I have a few constructive suggestions. Here is my guide to phrases you can use to maintain credibility with cutting-edge clients when having no idea what they are talking about.

‘There are embryonic plans for EU Commission intervention here that you may have to take into account.’ (Almost certainly true, plus you are not just well informed, you know about the embryos.)

‘The legal dichotomy between the US and EU will lead to endless difficulties of a transjurisdictional nature.’ (Again, probably true. Plus, if you pick your audience well, they may think they know what you mean – even though you don’t. And you look ‘transjurisdictional’, which is probably a good thing.)

‘I saw a paper on the legal implications of this from a researcher at the LSE/Oxford Internet Institute/Strathclyde Uni/Queen Mary/Leiden University; it is some time ago and I really should look at it again.’ (Note that you haven’t actually said you have read it. Be sure to vary the reference to the institution; these are fairly obvious examples and you may want to check out IT law studies in Lithuania and beyond. The plus here is that you are so far ahead of the game that your recollection is faint and you can play the ‘I don’t want to give an off-the-cuff answer’ card too – an old chestnut that never loses its shine.)

‘One of our associates has just written a short paper on this very issue; I’ll give it a polish and send you a copy.’ (Available only to senior IT figures who do not mind the odd fib. Sadly there is no way to be sure that you are not the first associate that he or she sees on returning to the office when feeling slightly bad about the lie.)

‘The privacy implications are frightening.’ (A bit desperate but {i}always{/i} true.)

‘We have a client working in this field – very cutting-edge and very hush-hush. I really shouldn’t comment for fear of disclosing confidential material.’ (Who knows? someone at your firm might have such a client. Great for gaining credibility but you have to really concentrate hard on saying nothing more – few lawyers find that easy.)

‘When assessing the importance of this innovation, we do also need to take account of the effect of bioacoustic sensing/smart dust/the Internet of Things.’ (This has the disadvantage that you have to know something about one trending topic but you only need master that one, throw it into conversations about any other and then keep dragging the conversation back to your one safe topic.)

One word of warning: keep off the jokes. ‘Brain-computer interface – I’m just waiting for them to build a computer big enough!’ ‘Natural-Language Question Answering? Is that where Google tells you to eff off because its busy?’ Such remarks just make you look ignorant. This advice applies double in the case of electrovibration – whole careers could crumble there.