Navigating the Hype: Emerging Technologies’ Dependence on the Workforce of Tomorrow

It's no secret that the 21st century is full of surprises. Currently, humans live longer than ever before, AI is replacing jobs once considered irreplaceable, and quantum computers threaten to disrupt internet cryptography. The series of disruptions is attributed to a set of innovative developments termed emerging technologies. In spite of their embryonic nature, they pose tremendous opportunities (and risks) to our daily lives.

The 2023 Gartner Hype Cycle, published within the past month, identifies 25 must-know emerging technologies, categorized into four main themes: emergent AI, developer experience, pervasive cloud, and human-centric security and privacy.

According to the well-known Dunning-Kruger theory, which posits that people believe they are smarter and more capable than they really are, Gartner applies this principle to technology, explaining that emerging technologies tend to be overhyped before they reach a point where productive expectations and research are able to take place.

A look at the hype cycle for 2023 shows that many of the technologies we hear about today are clustered around the peak of inflated expectations (no surprise there). Approximately halfway along the innovation trigger curve lies post quantum cryptography. Illustrated by its growing proximity to the peak of inflated expectations, increasing hype continues to surround this digital security technology. For example, large corporations like IBM and Microsoft have invested considerably in quantum technology. A number of startups have also popped up, some of which boast staggering valuations.

Inflated, however, is the key word as they approach the peak. Using peak share prices shortly after the companies went public, The Financial Times calculated the combined value of Arqit, IonQ, D-Wave, and Rigetti at nearly $12.5bn. Even though their initial valuation was high, that has since fallen to $1.4bn.

Which companies possess the potential to surpass the hype and position themselves for widespread adoption? Is it possible to identify these companies in their early stages? For the past five years, I've been immersed in the quantum computing industry, watching a technology emerge and discovering why certain companies are prospering. I believe that when assessing which companies will successfully navigate the challenges ahead or endure the inevitable disillusionment phase, the workforce must be the primary consideration.

I’ve observed that the workforce’s health is a fundamental precondition for all future innovation. Industries heavily reliant on technology and innovation, such as emerging technologies, depend on a strong workforce to drive research and development. While the quantum field tends to focus on scientific issues like qubit control, qubit quality, and decoherence, this human element often goes overlooked.

It is crucial that we look at the industry's ability to attract and retain top talent. The quantum sector is currently facing challenges in this regard, evident in the fact that it comprises only 16,000 physicists, with a significant portion not specializing in quantum mechanics. In stark contrast, fields like AI are excelling in the retention and growth of their workforce, boasting approximately 300,000 professionals dedicated to the field.

The human element often reveals incentives that are predictive of industry profitability and adaptability. When there is significant financial potential or profit to be made, it tends to attract talented individuals who are eager to contribute. Conversely, when salaries are low or the compensation does not align with the perceived value of the work, it can deter individuals from seeking employment or engagement with a particular organization or industry. In such instances, the lack of competitive remuneration can indeed hinder the industry's growth and potential for financial success.

The trajectory of emerging technologies is intrinsically linked to the dedication and diligence of those who are actively engaged in their development. Corporations have a pivotal role to play in this journey, and I urge them to invest and commit to significantly impact the pace and success of these technologies. It is not merely a matter of financial gain but a shared responsibility to shape a future where emerging technologies benefit society as a whole.