In 5 years, schools, medical systems, stores will know all about you, says IBM

It’s that time of year again. IBM Research has come up with its annual 5 in 5 list of technologies that it expects to go mainstream within five years.

This year’s predictions, culled from IBM Research’s brain trust, are all about things that learn and adapt from their learnings — a timely theme given the explosion of data coming about as the internet of things gains traction. What good are all those sensors and all that data if you can’t apply them to make everyday systems smarter and more adaptive?

For example, IBM researchers predict that cloud-based cognitive systems that will take data harvested from MOOCs (massive open online courses, like Coursera and EdX) and other sources so that the classroom or coursework adapts to a child’s way of learning as opposed to forcing the child to adapt to the classroom. These systems, according to IBM, would create “longitudinal student records” so teachers will know a give child’s problem areas and strengths and to tailor coursework to that child. (Check out the video below, but be warned: Mo Rocca narrates.)

Those romantics over at IBM also foresee pressing cognitive technology along with augmented reality systems, location-based data and vast troves of customer-supplied personal information to make brick-and-mortar retailers more competitive with e-commerce sites. IBM cites Fluid, a startup that’s using Watson’s app development platform with its own Expert Personal Shopper app in what it hopes will become your personal shopping assistant. In-store personnel will have their own data feed of instant product information, customer loyalty data, sales histories, user reviews, blogs and magazines, “so that when you do need to talk with another human, they know exactly how to help.”

Ajay Royyuru, director of IBM's Computational Biology Center
Ajay Royyuru, director of IBM’s Computational Biology Center

The all-knowing Watson will also play a role in smarter, self-learning medical applications. “Watson-like systems” will enable doctors to use patient’s own DNA to build super-customized cancer therapy for them, IBM predicts. We’re already moving down that road as cancer researchers increasingly seek targeted drugs for treatment.

Local governments will turn increasingly to citizen-supplied data — from crowdsourcing, mobile applications and sensors — to manage and plan better, said IBM. Ideally, that would tighten up the feedback loop so cities can react to problems in traffic flow, water systems, and other infrastructure

In security, IBM said cognitive systems will also “keep watch” of your online (and potentially offline?) behavior to detect and prevent fraud or crime by tracking anomalies. Such systems will boost use of biometric technology including fingerprint and facial recognition.

“This cognitive system currently tracks several different security anomalies. It also incorporates security measure such as fingerprint and facial recognition. So, as it understands what you secure and how, it can even make decisions for you, per your instructions and permission. Not trying to buy a jetpack because you’re afraid of heights? Your digital guardian will know this, and won’t let this daredevil with your credit card buy it either.”

As Om pointed out on the fifth birthday of these lists in 2011, the bullet points provide a handy framework on technologies to watch. The initial picks from IBM back in 2006 were

  • 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.

Given that list I’d say IBM is doing okay.  Google(s goog) (and Samsung), Microsoft(s msft) and IBM itself  already tout real-time translation. Remote access to healthcare is pretty much a done deal, provided you have insurance. Still working on 3-D internet. My smartphone is good but isn’t reading my mind yet, maybe an upgrade? But enough from me. Use comments below to share how you think IBM’s predictions have panned out?

Photo courtesy of  IBM Research