The gap between science fiction and science fact is narrowing daily. Here’s a look at five emerging technologies and market and society trends that scientists at IBM’s research lab think have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years.
Power from the people
Anything that moves or produces heat has the potential to create energy that can be captured, Big Blue's scientists said in their sixth annual "IBM 5 in 5" look at what's in store for mankind in the near term. Walking, jogging, bicycling. The heat from your computer or the water flowing through plumbing.
Scientists believe that advances in renewable energy technology will allow individuals to collect this kinetic energy, which now goes to waste, and use it to help power homes, offices and cities.
On a personal level, while you're riding your bicycle to work, devices on the spokes of your wheels could be recharging batteries you could later use to power some of the lights in your home. On a larger scale, IBM researchers in Ireland are looking at ways to understand and minimize the environmental impact of converting ocean wave energy into electricity.
You are your password
Each person has a unique biological identity. Your biometric data—facial definitions, retina scans and voice files—will be composited through software to build an individual's unique online password, IBM researchers said.
Referred to as multi-factor biometrics, smarter systems will be able to use this information in real-time to safeguard your identity. You will no longer need to create, track or remember multiple passwords.
In the future, IBM scientists said, you will be able to walk up to an ATM and securely withdraw money by simply speaking your name or looking into a tiny sensor that can recognize the unique patterns in the retina of your eye.
Mind reading gets real
Mind reading may make the leap from science fiction to real life sooner than expected, the researchers in Armonk, N.Y., said. IBM scientists are among those researching how to link your brain to devices such as a computer or smartphone and be able to control inanimate objects by just thinking about it. If you think about calling someone, for example, the smartphone would then dial that number.
Scientists in the field of bioinformatics have designed headsets with advanced sensors to read electrical brain activity that can recognize facial expressions, and the thoughts of a person. IBM researchers believe that within five years we will begin early applications of this technology in the gaming and entertainment industry.
Digital divide closes
In five years, IBM said, the gap between information haves and have-nots will narrow considerably due to advances in mobile technology; by then 80 percent of the current global population will have a mobile device.
This will empower people without a lot of spending power, they believe. In India, IBM used speech technology and mobile devices to enable rural villagers who were illiterate to pass along information through recorded messages on their phones. With access to information that was not there before, villagers could check weather reports to help them decide when to fertilize crops, to know when doctors were coming to town, and to find the best prices for their crops or merchandise.
Junk becomes gems
In five years, unsolicited advertisements may feel so personalized and relevant that you'll think spam is dead. At the same time, spam filters will be so precise that you'll never be bothered by unwanted sales pitches again.
IBM said it is developing technology that uses real-time analytics to make sense and integrate data from across all the facets of your life such as your social networks and online preferences to present and recommend information that is useful only to you. From news to sports to politics, you'll trust the technology will know what you want, so you can decide what to do with it.