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Summary:

Every year, IBM comes up with a list of five innovations it believes will become popular within the next five years. For 2011, it has come up with the following technologies it thinks will gain traction. I also look back at some of its previous predictions.

IBM5in5

For each of the past five years, IBM has come up with a list of five innovations it believes will become popular within five years. In this, the sixth year, IBM has come up with the following technologies it thinks will gain traction. Hold on to your sci-fi novels, because some of these are pretty out there. And some of them, well, I wish we had some of them today.

  • People power will come to life. Advances in technology will allow us to trap the kinetic energy  generated (and wasted) from walking, jogging, bicycling and even from water flowing through pipes. A bicycle charging your iPhone? There’s nothing wrong with that, though I think it might be a while before we see this actually become a mainstream practice.
  • You will never need a password again. Biometrics will finally replace the password, and with that, redefine the phrase “hack.” Jokes aside, IBM believes multi-factor biometrics will become pervasive. “Biometric data – facial definitions, retinal scans and voice files – will be composited through software to build your DNA-unique online password.” Just based on the increasing hours we spend online, I would say we need solutions such as the ones proposed by IBM labs to come to market ASAP.
  • Mind reading is no longer science fictionScientists are working on headsets with sensors that can read brain activity and recognize facial expressions, excitement and more without needing any physical inputs from the wearer. “Within [five] years, we will begin to see early applications of this technology in the gaming and entertainment industry,” IBM notes. It will also be good for folks who have suffered from strokes and have brain disorders. Personally, I’m not sure this is commercially viable within the stated five years.
  • The digital divide will cease to exist. Mobile phones will make it easy for even the poorest of poor to get connected. In the U.S. and other parts of the world, this is already happening.
  • Junk mail will become priority mail. “In five years, unsolicited advertisements may feel so personalized and relevant it may seem that spam is dead. At the same time, spam filters will be so precise you’ll never be bothered by unwanted sales pitches again,” notes IBM. I have just one thing to say about this prediction: OMG!

Is IBM any good at this prediction stuff?

New predictions aside, IBM’s track record of predictions over past five years has been somewhat mixed. Let’s take a step back to 2006 and look at its predictions:

  • We will be able to access healthcare remotely, from just about anywhere in the world.
  • Real-time speech translation—once a vision only in science fiction—will become the norm.
  • There will be a 3-D Internet.
  • Technologies the size of a few atoms will address areas of environmental importance.
  • Our mobile phones will start to read our minds.

Remote healthcare is a reality, but real-time speech translation is well, not quite as real. The 3-D Internet: We’re still waiting for that, but those mobile phones are becoming awfully smart. As I said, it’s mixed in its predictions. In 2007, IBM correctly predicted driving would be assisted by software and your phones would become “your wallet, ticket broker, concierge, bank, shopping buddy and more.” But that was right after iPhone launched.

As another example, in 2009, IBM predicted city buildings would “sense and respond” like living organisms. That sensor-based future is finally unfolding two years later. That same year, they predicted cars and buses would run on hydrogen and biofuels. Well, it’s half-true. We have some places where some buses and some cars are running on biofuels. However, their prediction that cities will develop a healthier immune system due to connectedness is quite far from reality. Although we still have a little more than two years to go before we can say IBM got those wrong.

What’s the bottom line?

IBM’s 5 in 5 makes a nice cheat sheet to keep an eye on the future and also focus on key trends that might go big. I can’t wait for the 2012 edition.

  1. Retinal scans are the stuff of science fiction as they are invasive and restricted to licensed opthamologists. But iris scanning is a reality and much more individualistic than fingerprints. There are a couple of companies making iris based ID scanners that could be used for POS identification instead of swiping a credit card.

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    1. Steve K

      Can you share the names of those companies? Thanks

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      1. L1 Identix has probably the largest IP in the arena.

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  2. Ross Stapleton-Gray Monday, December 19, 2011

    If #2 (biometric identification) indeed happens, we’ll also need more effective means to delegate authority. Translate, “Honey, could you log into my account and send that thing this afternoon?” into a biometrics only world… So perhaps a niche for a “power of attorney” type service that biometrically authenticates you, and then is directed to grant “as you” authority to select others, for select applications.

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    1. Interesting thought. But wouldn’t the obviate the point of biometric identification?

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      1. Ross Stapleton-Gray Monday, December 19, 2011

        Not at all (though obviously there are security issues every time you introduce new links in chains); what’s important is not that “I am me,” but that “This action is being taken with my authority.” I know there are many more cases of sharing accounts/password than there are implementations of appropriate ways to delegate authority; the latter is really needed.

        Related, just who/what’s doing this biometric authentication? Lots of sites have outsourced identity management (via old-timey passwords) to Facebook (and I had the option to do so with your site via several, and chose Twitter)… will there be a battle over who actually makes the call (and presumably may be on the hook for liability) that you’re you, and will that be fought by FB and Twitter, and/or Microsoft and Apple?

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      2. There is a distinction between Authentication (ie – proving who you say you are) and Authorization (ie – getting access to what you can do).

        Biometrics might lead to an increase in delegated authorization because of the lack of anonymity. Think about a University offering access to a third party system to all it’s students. I don’t want this third party to have my biometrics data. But what could happen is to get the University System to Authenticate me – and for it to Authorize the 3rd Party Provider to give me access to the resources I need.

        Biometrics is potentially great – but some level of anonymity is going to be required. And it will probably come from delegation.

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  3. Junk mail is already priority mail in the sense that right now only 10% of my mail is bills, and the other 90% is junk mail.

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  4. In spite of amazing technological advances, our keyboards will still use the QWERTY layout from 1878.

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  5. Ross Stapleton-Gray Monday, December 19, 2011

    DARPA also has a recently announced R&D program on authentication via behavior, discussed at the cybersecurity colloquium I attended last month… the idea there is that one has a mechanical signature, e.g., the patterns of your keystrokes, etc. I’ll try to dig up a reference, and the name of the program manager there.

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    1. Ross Stapleton-Gray Monday, December 19, 2011

      It’s in the Guidorizzi presentation here: http://www.darpa.mil/Cyber_Colloquium_Presentations.aspx

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