At the end of each year, IBM examines market and societal trends expected to transform our lives, as well as emerging technologies from IBM's global labs, to develop a multi-year forecast called The Next 5 in 5.
IBM predicts that technology innovations will change our lives in the following ways:
You won't need to be a scientist to save the planet
While you may not be a scientist, you are a walking sensor. In five years, sensors in your phone, your car, your wallet and even your tweets will collect data that will give scientists a real-time picture of your environment. You'll be able to volunteer to contribute this data to fight global warming, save endangered species or track invasive plants or animals that threaten ecosystems around the world. In the next five years, a whole class of citizen scientists will emerge, using simple sensors that already exist to create massive data sets for research.
Simple observations—when the first thaw occurs in your town, when the mosquitoes first appear, if there's no water running where a stream should be—contain valuable data that scientists don't currently have in large sets. If connected to a network of other computers, your laptop can even be used to help map out the aftermath of an earthquake, speeding up the work of emergency responders and potentially saving lives.
Beam your friends up in 3-D
In the next five years science fiction won't be so fiction anymore, as 3-D interfaces like those in the movies let you interact with 3-D holograms of your friends in real time. Movies and TVs are already moving to 3-D, and as 3-D and holographic cameras get more sophisticated and miniaturized to fit into cell phones, we'll be able to interact with our photos, browse the Web and chat with our friends in entirely new ways.
Scientists are working to improve video chat to become holography chat or 3-D telepresence. The technique uses light beams scattered from objects and reconstructs a picture of that object, a similar technique to the one our eyes use to visualize our surroundings.
IBM researchers are also working on new ways to visualize 3-D data, working on technology that would allow engineers to step inside of a designs of anything from buildings to software programs, running simulations of how diseases spread across an interactive 3-D globes, and visualizing Twitter trends that are happening around the world—all in real time and with little to no data distortion.
Batteries will breathe air to power our devices
Ever wish you could make your laptop battery last all day without needing a charge? Or what about a mobile device that charges itself while you carry it in your pocket?
In the next five years, scientific advances in transistors and battery technology will allow your devices to last about 10 times longer than they currently do. Scientists are working on batteries that use the air we breathe to react with energy-dense metal, leading to longer lasting batteries. If successful, the result will be a lightweight, powerful and rechargeable battery capable of powering for everything from electric cars to mobile devices.
Or, better yet, batteries may disappear altogether in smaller devices. The European Union is betting $5.5 million that we can do that by rethinking the basic building block of electronic devices—the transistor. The goal is simple—reduce the amount of energy per transistor to less than 0.5 volts. With energy demands that low, we might be able to eliminate the batteries in some devices.
The result would be battery-free electronic devices that can be charged using a technique called energy scavenging. Some wristwatches use this now—they do not require winding and charge based on the movement of the wearer's arm. The same concept could be used to charge mobile phones, for example—just shake and dial.
Computers will help energize your city
Innovations allow computers and data centers to do things like heat buildings in the winter and power air conditioners in the summer with the excessive heat and energy that they give off. Can you imagine if the energy poured into the world's data centers could, in turn, be recycled for a city's use?
Up to 50 percent of the energy consumed by a modern data center goes toward cooling the air. Most of the heat is then wasted because it is dumped into the atmosphere. Using new technologies, such as on-chip water-cooling systems developed by IBM, the thermal energy from a cluster of computer processors can be efficiently recycled to provide hot water for an office or a house.
A pilot project that involves a computer system fitted with the technology is expected to save up to 30 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, the equivalent of an 85 percent carbon footprint reduction. A novel network of microfluidic capillaries inside a heat sink is attached to the surface of each chip in the computer cluster, which allows water to be piped to within microns of the semiconductor material itself. By having water flow so close to each chip, heat can be removed more efficiently. Water heated to 60§ C is then passed through a heat exchanger to provide heat that is delivered elsewhere.
Your commute will be personalized
Imagine your commute with no jam-packed highways, no crowded subways and no construction delays. In the next five years, advanced analytics technologies will provide personalized recommendations that get commuters where they need to go in the fastest time. Adaptive traffic systems will intuitively learn traveler patterns and behavior to provide more dynamic travel safety and route information to travelers than is currently available.
IBM researchers are developing new models that will provide information that goes well beyond traditional traffic reports, after-the fact information that only indicates where you are already located in a traffic jam.
Using new mathematical models and IBM's predictive analytics technologies, researchers will analyze and combine multiple possible scenarios that can affect commuters to deliver the best routes for daily travel, including traffic accidents, road construction, most traveled days of the week, expected work start times, local events that may affect traffic, alternate options of transportation such as rail or ferries, parking availability and weather.
Combining these predictive analytics with real-time information about current travel congestion from sensors and other data, the system could recommend better ways to get to a destination, such as how to get to a nearby mass transit hub, whether the train is predicted to be on time, and whether parking is predicted to be available at the train station. New systems can learn from regular travel patterns where you are likely to go and then integrate all available data and prediction models to pinpoint the best route.