IBM Releases its '5 in 5' Predictions for the Future of Technology

By Tracey E. Schelmetic December 19, 2011

If you ever find yourself wondering where technology is going to take us in the future – not mankind overall, but us as individuals – IBM may be able to help. The tech giant has just revealed some predictions in the sixth-annual installment of its “5 in 5” report: five technologies that will start to change the world in the next five years.

Some of them sound pretty fantastic, at least for the near future, so you may need to suspend your disbelief a little.

IBM says it's working on an interface that will allow you to control computers and other technology with your need to mess around with menus, sending e-mails or entering phone numbers into a phone. In the future, you may only need to imagine calling someone and a mind-reading phone will make the connection, says IBM. Or you can imagine surfing to your favorite news site, only to find it done.

“If you just need to think about calling someone, it happens," IBM said in its report. “Or you can control the cursor on a computer screen just by thinking about where you want to move it.”

While the science, part of something called “bioinformatics,” has already shown up in a few prototype headsets that allow gamers to perform simple tasks by thinking about them, widespread consumer adoption by 2017 seems a little premature. 

Another prediction that will be most welcome by a majority of us involves using biometrics to access personal accounts and websites (such as online bank account information) rather than remembering dozens of user names and passwords.

“Your biological makeup is the key to your individual identity, and soon it will become the key to safeguarding it,” notes IBM in its report. “Imagine you will be able to walk up to an ATM machine to 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. Or by doing the same, you can check your account balance on your mobile phone or tablet.”

It's certainly preferable to have to try and remember 27 different log-in names and passwords that techies tell us should be changed every three months. However, it does raise the potential of increasingly creepy personal violations of our physical selves by thieves. (Consider what is done to the scientists at the beginning of Dan Brown's book Angels and Demons in order to bypass the retina scan.)

Another area IBM foresees developing in the next five years is personal energy generation: that is, collecting the energy from everyday activities in order to power our homes.

“Anything that moves or produces heat has the potential to create energy that can be captured,” says IBM. “Walking. Jogging. Bicycling. The heat from your computer. Even the water flowing through your pipes.”

You've always said you wished you could harness the energy of your five-year-old, right? Maybe in the near future you'll be able to do so. Also, imagine charging your iPhone while you work out. Several gyms have already experimented with hooking up their machines to the facility's power grid, allowing the gym to collect energy from work-outs and re-use it.

The tech giant also predicts that mobile Internet technology will narrow the global “digital divide” between rich and poor, and that junk mail will cease to become junk mail because it will become so personalized you won't be able to resist it. (Sorry, IBM, not buying that one.)

But before you get TOO excited about IBM's predictions, note that five years ago, in late 2006, IBM predicted we would be using a 3-D Internet and that our mobile phones would be able to read our minds. While I don't doubt the validity of the predictions, I'm thinking the five-year time line may be a little too optimistic.

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin

TechZone360 Contributor

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