What the future holds: IBM’s 5 in 5 Forecast and More Information Overload Ahead

The future is murky...

On New Year’s Eve, we generally like to take stock of where we are, take a deep breath, prepare for a fresh new year with some resolutions, and of course, make wild predictions about the future.

IBM is getting into the spirit of the season with its 5 in 5, a list of five innovations that will change our lives in five years.  This is the sixth year that the company has released its list of predictions, which are driven by market data, social trends, and innovations taking place in IBM research labs.

Before we look ahead, let’s look at how IBM has done with its past predictions.  In 2006 IBM predicated that, by 2011, we would have digitized medical records and be using advanced video teleconferencing systems to speak and interact with our doctors.  We are not completely there, but we are on the way.  The company also predicted context-aware mobile devices and nanotechnology being used to control our environment.  Mobile devices have certainly evolved in that direction, and we are using advanced nanotechnology to improve solar energy collection.

In the fail column, IBM also believed that, by 2011, we would be immersed in a 3-D Internet (Snow Crash, anyone?) and that real-time translation (Star Trek-style) would be possible.

In the area of Information Overload, we previously predicted that Information Overload would continue to increase despite attempts by us and on the part of others to raise awareness of the high cost and the negative impact it has.  Unfortunately, we were correct in our prediction and the amount of Information Overload rose in lockstep with the increase in the amount of information created over the past year.

Looking to the year ahead, the trend will continue and we can expect more of the same, namely more information and more Information Overload.

This year, in its 5 in 5 forecast and on a more positive note, IBM is banking on the following:

1.)  People power.  Advances in renewable energy technology will allow for the harnessing of kinetic energy from movement such as walking or jogging, or even residual heat from individuals or machines.

2.)  Multi-factor biometrics.  Passwords will become obsolete as we increasingly rely on identification via biometric data such as facial definitions, retinal scans, and voice recognition.

3.)  Mind reading.  No, really.  Bioinformatics is the field of harnessing electronic brain activity with advanced sensors to understand facial expressions, concentration levels, and thoughts of a person.  The technology can be applied to controlling mobile devices, medical testing, and the gaming industry.

4.)  Death of the digital divide.  IBM believes that the ubiquity of mobile devices will all but eliminate the gap between those who have information access and those who do not.  The company estimates that in the next five years there will be 5.6 billion mobile devices sold, giving 80% of the 7 billion people on earth access to such a device.

5.)  Junk mail will become useful?  With both spam filters and targeted advertising becoming more precise, IBM thinks that real-time analytics will become so advanced that the technology will be able to accurately determine what you really want.  An example of this kind of predictive, targeted advertising would be reserving concert tickets for your favorite band on a night that you have a free space on your calendar, all without asking you.

This year’s 5 in 5 predictions are interesting and fun, and it is easy to see how trends support some of the ideas.  Biometrics, control of technology via brain waves, and harnessing kinetic energy in particular seem very plausible.  Eliminating the digital divide that separates the information haves from the have nots and solving the junk mail problem seem a bit trickier, but in the spirit of the holidays lets be optimistic.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.  He can be reached at cburke@basex.com

(Image courtesy of John Stephen Dwyer)

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