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InnovationsThe annual “IBM Next Five in Five” is a list of predicted innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and play over the next five years. The list is based on market and societal trends expected to transform our lives, as well as emerging technologies from IBM’s Labs around the world that could make these innovations possible. Following is a sampling of the five areas.
The press is covered with stories about all things “green“. IBM believes the technology is actually going to make it easy to be green and save money in the process. A range of “smart energy” technologies will enable us to manage our personal “carbon footprint“. As data begins to run through our home electrical system, appliances, air conditioners, lights, and computers, we will become connected to a “smart” electrical grid, making it possible to turn our appliances on and off using a web browser from a PC or cell phone. In addition to alerting you about leaving appliances on when they could be off, we will be able to establish rules to be followed to automatically conserve energy. Reports will show us electrical usage just like we track our cell phone minutes. Intelligent energy grids will also enable utilities to provide you with the option to use only green energy sources such as solar and wind.

The way we drive will be changing dramatically. In the next five years, IBM says our cars will connected to the roads we drive on and thereby we will be safer and remain out of traffic jams. The technology will keep traffic flowing smoothly, cut pollution, curb accidents, and make it easier and less stressful for us to get where we are going. Intelligent traffic systems will make real-time adjustments to traffic lights and divert traffic to alternate routes while our cars will communicate with each other and with sensors along the road — allowing them to behave as if they have ‘reflexes’ so they can take preventive actions under dangerous conditions. When traffic is jammed up alternative routes will be activated.

Since we are what we eat, we should know what we eat. With foods being sourced across international borders, the need to know exactly what we eat has never been more important. According to IBM, in the next five years, new advancements in software and wireless radio sensor technologies will enable us to know the exact source and make-up of the food we buy — the climate and soil the food was grown in, the pesticides and pollution it was exposed to, the energy consumed to create the product, and the temperature and air quality of the shipping containers it traveled in on the way to our dinner table.

In the next five years, IBM says our cell phones will become our wallets, ticket brokers, concierge, bank, shopping buddy, and tour guide. New technology will allow us to snap a picture of someone wearing an outfit we want and will automatically search the web to find the designer and the nearest shop that has the outfit in stock. We will then see what that outfit would look like on our personal avatar – a 3-D representation of our self on our phone, and ask our friends to check it out online and give their opinion. When we turn on our phone in a city we are visiting, it will automatically provide us with local entertainment options, activities, and dining options that match our preferences — and then make reservations and purchase tickets for us.

Perhaps the most important area where IBM sees major advances is healthcare. Doctors will get enhanced “super-senses” to better diagnose and treat us. In the next five years, our doctor will be able to see, hear and understand our medical records in entirely new ways. In effect, doctor’s will gain superpowers – technologies will allow them to gain x-ray like vision to view medical images and super sensitive hearing to find the tiniest audio clue in our heart beat. Our avatar will allow doctors to click on a part of our body and then visualize the relevant information for that part of us. The hospital system will then be able to compare those visual and audio clues to thousands of other anonymous patient records and be able to be much more precise in diagnosing us and providing us with a personalized treatment plan.
Some of the innovations IBM is predicting may seem like a stretch but the basics of all of them are already in place. If we were to step back five years it is likely most of us would not have foreseen how we would be doing on the Internet today.