For many years IBM developed a ten year outlook every year and proudly presented it to executives inside and outside of the company. The TYO was a high-level glimpse into the future of technology. About ten years ago the TYO was stopped because the pace of technology evolution had reached the stage where the future that far out became very difficult to predict. As Yogi Berra said, “The future isn’t what it used to be.” Not that IBM is any less focused on creating the future. The company earned 4,186 U.S. patents in 2008, becoming the first company ever to earn more than 4,000 U.S. patents in a single year. IBM’s 2008 patent issuances exceed those of Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Apple, EMC, Accenture and Google — combined. IBM now issues a five-year forecast annually of five specific technology shifts that 3,000 of its researchers see coming. The Bloomberg reported briefly on IBM’s “Next Five in Five” list of five innovations expected over the next five years.
3-D images will not be limited to action movies on TV. A cell-phone call from a friend may be accompanied by a 3-D image of your friend. Videoconferencing is already gaining a lot of traction but when they can be conducted through holographic cameras that fit into cell phones, the virtual reality will become much closer to real reality.
Advances in transistors and battery technology will accelerate — potentially allowing electronic devices to function without charging 10 times longer than currently. Today’s lithium-ion batteries could be replaced by batteries “that use the air we breath to react with energy-dense metal, eliminating a key inhibitor to longer lasting batteries,” IBM said. The amount of energy needed by electronic circuits may be reduced to such a degree that a modest amount of physical motion may create sufficient energy to power them. Wrist watches exist that have no batteries and get their energy from movement of our wrists. Within five years, the same concept may be used to charge mobile phones.
Personalized commutes are another advancement seen by IBM scientists. New mathematical models and predictive analytics technologies will produce the best routes for daily travel. The models will take into consideration the patterns of travelers and various conditions to predict where traffic congestion is going to occur and then give you the fastest and safest route to your destination.
Human beings will also increasingly become “walking sensors,” IBM said. Within five years, sensors in your phone, your car, your wallet plus your texts and tweets will create data that will give scientists a real-time picture of the environment around you. A whole class of ‘citizen scientists’ will emerge using their sensors to create massive data sets for research. The result will be more effective efforts to fight global warming, save endangered species and track invasive plants or animals that threaten ecosystems around the world.
Finally, IBM said, scientists will find better ways to recycle heat and energy from the huge data centers that power the millions of web sites around the world. Up to 50 percent of the energy consumed by data centers goes toward cooling air. Most of the heat extracted is then wasted because it is just dumped into the atmosphere. New technologies, such as novel on-chip water-cooling systems developed by IBM will provide heat for buildings in the winter and air condition them in the summer.
They were not mentioned in IBM’s “Next Five in Five” list, but the company is making large investments in multiple dimensions of healthcare. Breakthroughs are a certainty and technology will play a major role in containing healthcare cost while improving outcomes for patients. Stay tuned at healthdiscussions.net for updates on this topic.
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