IBM 5 in 5: Five Predictions for the Future of Tech in 5 Years

Each year IBM releases its 5 in 5 publication, a list of technological predictions made by the company after it examines the market, its own technology, and societal trends.

This year, the company made some exciting, if not somewhat controversial forecasts

Prediction 1: Energy: People Power Will Come to Life

IBM sees a near future in which any movements, walking, riding a bike, the undulations of the ocean, can create energy to power our devices. For example, IBM’s global labs are currently at work on ways to convert ocean waves energy into electricity.

Tidal energy, as it is called, is clean and renewable. In one instance, energy converters float on the surface of water and convert the movement of surface water into energy. In another, tidal energy converters, which look like large wind turbines, sit on the sea floor and spin with the ocean’s currents, creating predictable and renewable sources of energy.

Yet harnessing the energy of that which moves has small-scale implications, too. Energy converters can be used to harness electricity from any moving source:

“A device on the spokes of your bicycle could measure and collect energy that’s then transmitted to power your kitchen appliances,” according to this IBM blog post. “The water running through your pipes could power on the lights in your house.”

Prediction 2: Security: You will never need a password again

Within five years, according to IBM, passwords will be replaced by “multifactor biometrics.” Retinal scans, fingerprint scans, and voice recognition will be interpreted by machines to let you in to restricted places, websites and the like.

“Your unique biological identity becomes your only password as multifactor biometrics aggregate these characteristics in real time to prevent identity theft,” according to IBM.

Prediction 3: Mind reading: No Longer Science Fiction

With software like Apple’s Siri and Android’s Majel, devices are getting more and more integrated with human beings. Very soon, we’ll no longer have to access our apps, contacts, browsers, etc. with our fingertips, as we’ll be barking voice commands at our phone.

Yet IBM thinks this close integration will accelerate quickly, and within five years, devices will be reading our minds.

“IBM scientists are researching how to link your brain to your devices, such as a computer or a smartphone, so you only have to think about calling someone and it happens,” according to the 5 in 5 post. “For example, see a cube on your computer screen and think about moving it to the left, and it will. Beyond electronics control, possible applications include physical rehabilitation and understanding of brain disorders such as autism.”

These types of interactions are called bioinformatics, or the use of sensors to understand our thoughts.

Scientists have made much progress in understanding our electrical brain activity. They can see, for example, how the brain responds to facial expressions, excitement and concentration.

According to Kevin Brown, a member of IBM’s Emergency Technology Services Team, bioinformatics will rapidly become more and more sophisticated.

“So the idea is to use these electrical synapses to also do everyday activities such as placing a phone call, turning on the lights or even in the healthcare space for rehabilitation,” he wrote in the IBM blog.

Prediction 4: Mobile: The digital divide will cease to exist

Mobile devices have been spreading rapidly over the world. In IBM’s prediction, smartphones will be so globally ubiquitous that the information divide will be “imperceptible.”

The information divide is a term used to describe the gap between countries whose citizens have access to information technology (such as the Internet) and those whose populations do not.

When everyone has smartphones connected to the Internet, that divide will cease to exist.

“New solutions and business models from IBM are introducing mobile commerce and remote healthcare, for example. Recorded messages can be transmitted to quickly deliver valuable information about weather and aid to remote or illiterate users who haven’t had ready access before. ”

Yet the prediction is a contentious one. Amy Gahran, writing for CNN, makes the argument that people with smartphones may still have poor internet access compared to people in the industrialized world, who have faster smartphones and computers, and access to better broadband service.

Prediction 5: Analytics: junk mail will become priority mail

Perhaps the least startling of the five, IBM predicts that unwanted messages in your life (all that inbox spam) will be replaced by priority messages and curated by a digital personal assistant, which is informed by an algorithm.

But going beyond ridding you of clutter, this personal assistant will be a proactive one.

“Combining your preferences and your calendar, for example, the technology will proactively reserve tickets to your favorite band’s concert when your calendar shows you’re free, or research alternate travel plans when it detects bad weather along your route, and then tell you where to go.”

To view the IBM 5 in 5 predictions homepage, click here.

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