Every year, IBM takes a step back to look at the bigger picture of how technology is developing, and changing the world in which we live. By examining trends in business, society and in technology itself, the company sets out to predict technological innovations that it believes will change our lives within the next five years.
These multi-year forecasts are known as The Next 5 in 5, and IBM has today released its five predictions for the next five years.
1. We’ll make use of ‘people power’.
The challenge of meeting our energy requirements – particularly in rapid-growth developing markets – will necessitate creative ways to generate and store energy. As technology develops, we will be able to harness and store energy that is already routinely generated – for example, when we walk or cycle, or even from processes like water flowing through pipes. Improvements in kinetic energy recovery systems, and advances in battery technologies, will allow us to capture and store energy that would otherwise be wasted, and put it to use powering our devices and even our homes. Personally, I rather like the idea of people running in giant hamster wheels to try to charge their iPads, but hopefully not in an environment as bleak as Charlie Brooker imagined it in episode two of "Black Mirror"!
2. You’ll never need a password again.
We’ll finally be rid of the need to remember all those pesky passwords and codes, as biometrics become the de facto standard for authentication, with retinal scans, voice analysis and facial recognition providing access to all online systems, and potentially even authorisation of access to physical locations too, such as your home or workplace. As IBM puts it, “your unique biological identity becomes your only password as multifactor biometrics aggregate [your] characteristics in real time to prevent identity theft.” Sweet.
3. Your computer will read your mind.
This takes the “you are the controller” concept to a whole new level. Rather than waving your hands around frantically at a sensor – or doing something as hilariously outdated as actually touching a device to control it – just visualise that music app opening, and the computer will respond to your thought. The foundations of this technology have already been developed; visual sensors and headsets are currently being tested with the ability to respond to neural inputs, eye movements and facial expressions. The technology also has enormous potential for helping people with physical incapacities, such as stroke survivors or those who are paralysed.
4. Wave goodbye to the ‘digital divide’.
This shift has already begun, with the commoditisation of technology dramatically reducing prices, and increasing availability of connected devices in developing markets, including many of the world’s poorest nations. This is an extremely exciting prospect for various reasons. It gives the poorest people access to new markets (for example, connecting remote villages to help them to manage supply and demand of resources, and boosting local economies); it provides access to information and assistance that may not have been available before, which can change lives (for example, in now being able to seek medical information online, when the nearest doctor is many miles away); and it can create and grow larger economies, by enabling millions of users to join the global digital marketplace.
5. Unwanted junk mail becomes useful, targeted information.
The idea here is that intelligent agents will parse data on our personal preferences and activities to not only filter out the junk from our inboxes, but to create and distil genuinely useful messages that can anticipate our needs. Say, for example, that you’re a huge fan of Coldplay. Instead of just allowing any Coldplay-related junk mail into your inbox, your new digital gatekeeper will seek out messages about their concerts, and proactively reserve tickets in case you want to purchase them; or a message from Amazon about their new album might automatically be dealt with by pre-ordering the album on your behalf. This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard of the ‘death of spam’ in one form or another, so don’t hold your breath on this one just yet.
Some of these predictions are perhaps a little more fanciful than the others, and it’s certainly anyone’s guess as to whether or not they’ll arrive within the next five years. IBM’s record as far as these predictions go isn’t exactly flawless – in 2006, we were told that by 2011, our mobile phones would be reading our minds, for example – but hey, it’s nice to dream.