Is AI a fad?… or, In 5 yrs artificial intelligence will exist as a layer of capability atop every business process

There’s an easy way to tell when the hype around a technology trend has peaked. Ask yourself the following: Are the smartest venture capitalists complaining about valuations? Are big tech companies snapping up startups so young they can barely be considered real businesses? Are Fortune 500 executives talking about their [insert trend here] strategy? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, congratulations! You’ve identified a fad. A small, lucky handful of early movers will ride it to untold riches. By the time the rest of us find out about the phenomenon, it’s too late.

Consider, then, today’s hot trend: Artificial intelligence. Venture capitalists across the country are parroting the phrase “AI is the new mobile.” Andrew Ng, chief scientist of Baidu (BIDU, +0.11%), the Chinese Internet services company, declared that AI is “the new electricity.” The more intensely tech thought leaders proclaim that a trend is here to stay, the more rapidly it tends to vanish. (Daily deals were “the future of commerce.” SoLoMo—social, local, mobile—was “the future of marketing.” On-demand services were “the future of work.” Chatbots were “the future of customer service.”)

And yet the smart money continues its embrace of AI startups. Last year VCs invested $5 billion in 658 companies, a 61% increase over the year prior, according to CB Insights. Acquirers are getting aggressive too.