ICT4D Hype Cycle for 2019: AI, Blockchain, Chatbots, Data, And…

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Back in 2014, we posted our first Development Hype Cycle to showcase how technologies move from initial invention to widespread application. We followed it up with a 2017 Hype Cycle.
The basic idea is simple: new technology is usually hyped to the point of inflating expectations beyond its actual impact, then reality will sink in, and we’ll all be disillusioned by the unfulfilled promises, after which, we finally figure out how to use it productively.
2019 Digital Development Hype Cycle
Now let’s update our ICT4D Hype Cycle to today’s innovative digital technologies and see where we are. In alphabetical order, we have…
Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence is approaching the peak of inflated expectations. With so many people wanting to do it, and USAID issuing guidance on how to use it, expect AI to jump the shark very soon. The dawning reality is that we’re really doing basic machine learning, if not just old-school statistical analysis with better branding.
Distributed ledger technology was last year’s darling with everyone trying to ride that hype train. This year, we are over blockchain, as we found no impact from any pilots. It is now dropping out of the hype cycle, its use cases limited to traceability and Facebook payment fantasies.
Computers chatting with us using natural language processing is very exciting. I cannot wait to ask Alexa for ICT4D advice. Even today, teams can create text-based humanitarian chatbots for farmer info, government services, and classroom learning. While the hype has past, the practicalities are just emerging.
Big Data, Open Data, Real Time Data, Dashboards
Data in all its forms is a multi-year hype-cycle winner. First there was the push for Open Data, and there was success with multiple countries and positive results. However this enthusiasm has since waned once governments realized that people could actually hold them accountable to deliver on their promises.
Next, we started to see excitement for Big Data, though, like artificial intelligence, there was more aspiration by organizations than real usage. Still, with millions of dollars chasing solutions, we’re bound to see more big data innovations in the years to come.
Then with the rise of Real-Time Data for development, we saw a shift from merely collecting and analyzing data for research reports, to using data to make better decisions in program management. This shift is impacting basic data management approaches as big data becomes useful data.
Finally, data dashboards are now rightly seen as the interface between data that we collect (and are morally obligated to use responsibly) and and the decision-makers who need that data on a daily basis.
Yes, drones are still on the hype cycle! UAVs crossed from inflated expectations, through the trough of disillusionment, to the plateau of productivity because we now know exactly when and how to use them in agriculture and humanitarian relief: drones are great to move cargo and map land.
eAgriculutre, eHealth, eLearning – everything can be digitized by adding an “e” to the front (or “m”). Here, we are getting really good at moving past tired tropes, and implementing successful ICT4D solutions using core digital principles. We still have lessons to learn to keep from repeating history, but we’re well on our way to long-term ICT4D productivity.
Wow, what difference a few years make. Back in 2012, Facebook was breaking news in Ghana, and by 2014, we were wondering if we were using Facebook enough. Then we realized the data security problem, the digital colonizer problem, and the fake account problem, among others, and we have to ask ourselves, do we stop promoting Facebook, or accept it as that’s where people are, and user generated content starts.
Where we fear the Facebook, it is Google that’s worked itself deeper into our lives. From the Android operating system on all of our constituent mobile phones, to the many Google services like GMail, GDrive, Google Maps, Google Groups, Google Translate, to its futuristic investments like Google Loon, Google is now core to digital development. Its like we trust Google more than governments. Of all our hype-cycle technologies, its Google that we’ve embraced the most.
Human-Centered Design
We’ve been talking about human-centered design for years now, but while we know how to use HCD in ICT4D, we’ve often talked more than walked this important approach. Thanks to continued cost reductions, we now attempt HCD from HQ. even though we know how powerful HCD can be when done with directly constituents.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things are now becoming useful for us. We can use IoT for M&E, flood control, agriculture, and other remote sensing needs. Since there are still barriers to sensor use, donors are funding IoT investigations  and we should expect IoT to follow drones into known, productive digital development deployments.
Just Use ICT4D Already!
Regardless of which technology you think worthy (or not) of its hype-cycle rating, its time to define your constituents’ problems, and design a worthy ICT4D intervention that can accelerate their social and economic development.
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