IBM predicts top 5 technologies in next 5 years

Company says better batteries and traffic jam prevention will be among next ‘5 hot technologies’; the list has been issued since 2006.

IBM chief technology officer Paul Bloom 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
IBM chief technology officer Paul Bloom 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
IBM unveiled its 2010 “Next 5 in 5” list last week, which predicts which five technologies will make a significant impact in people’s lives in five years’ time.
The company has been issuing the list since 2006. Some of those predictions have yet to come true, but some have been right on the mark.
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The Jerusalem Post caught up on Monday with IBM Research chief technology officer Paul Bloom during a visit to Israel to discuss the 5 in 5.
IBM’s 5 in 5 record is pretty good. One of its predictions from 2006 was that smart phones would become a large part of many people’s lives, Bloom said. Another prediction was that 3-D movies, games and TVs would make a breakthrough. Lo and behold, Avatar shattered all previous conceptions of 3-D movies in 2009.
IBM bases its 5 in 5 on technologies already in the lab, since five years hence is not far into the future. Generally, the 5 in 5 also reflect industries in which IBM is active, Bloom explained.
Taking the next step forward from its 2006 prediction, the new 5 in 5 includes a prediction that 3-D real time holographs on cell phones will appear in the next five years. Remember that scene in Star Wars where Princess Leia slips a holographic message into R2D2 that Luke later accidentally finds? Well, in the next five years, that could be you, IBM believes.
“We’re getting very close to a telepresence,” Bloom said.
IBM is also predicting a revolution in batteries in the next five years. As cell phones become more energy intensive and electric cars take off, batteries must keep up to power them.
“Instead of a battery in a cell phone that lasted a day, what about a battery that lasted 10 days before needing a charge?” Bloom suggested.
“Right now, lithium ion batteries have a negative environmental impact. At IBM, we’re looking at a highly dense material that interacts with air to produce energy. We’re also looking at the electronics ecosystem and trying to develop transistors that would use a fraction of the voltage,” he said.
The highly dense material would produce a chemical reaction with the air, Bloom said. The material is commonly found and relatively easy to produce, which would increase its environmental benefit. A product that requires more energy to manufacture it than it saves is not considered environmentally friendly.
A battery technology revolution could prove beneficial in Israel as skeptics point to Better Place’s 160 kilometer per charge limit as a drawback to the widespread adoption of electric cars.
IBM is also predicting that some devices would not require batteries at all, but would be charged by shaking them or rubbing them on your arm.
People will be turned into citizen scientists over the next five years, IBM predicts. Given the preponderance of cell phones with built in cameras, people could be asked to monitor water or air pollution and then send in pictures and a short report to a central database accessible by local authorities. Their reports would vastly increase the knowledge base scientists study.
“We believe most people are interested in helping the environment. A CreekWatch pilot project in California is enabling the public to monitor a creek and send that information back,” according to Bloom.
With its vast experience in computers from design to implementation, IBM is keenly aware how much energy is lost in data centers and server rooms mainly from air conditioning and the heat the servers put out. Fifty percent of the energy used is for air conditioning.
Another 5 in 5 prediction is that the heat from the servers will be harnessed to heat buildings, homes and cities. Moreover, IBM is working on a water-cooled system on the chip itself which is 4,000 times more efficient than air cooling, Bloom said.
A pilot project at ETH University in Zurich is currently examining the chips and the data center through the use of a supercomputer.
IBM has shifted its focus from personal computers to analytics and utilizing the massive amounts of data which have begun piling up. Following on that shift, the company has predicted that traffic jams could be prevented by personal predictive directions in the next five years.
“In the US, we estimate $78 billion a year are lost in time and energy because of people standing in traffic jams. So we asked: Can we use technology to remove jams? “We’re talking about predicting what’s going to happen. There are systems that can tell you now what’s happening in real time, but that’s not very useful if you’re sitting in a traffic jam and someone tells you you’re sitting in a traffic jam,” Bloom said with a laugh.
The idea is part of something called personalization information.
“It’s relatively easy to collect location data via cell phones and cellphone towers. It would be anonymized to protect people’s privacy,” he said.
By using analytics and modeling, the ideal routes could be worked out based on what would be likely to happen on the roads that morning.
“Perhaps you’d wake up and get a call telling you how to go to work based on your schedule that day or perhaps a screen above your bed would tell you the best way to go – whether by car or public transportation and what the best route would be,” he said.
For instance, when someone announces on the radio that a different way is clear, it often clogs up quickly as everyone attempts to use the new route.
“By personalizing the data, travelers could be split into thirds and thus avoid jams,” Bloom explained.
A pilot project in Stockholm has almost eliminated traffic congestion, he added.
“All of which would have a significant impact on the environment and on productivity and it is all based on taking data that exists already,” Bloom noted.
IBM’s Haifa facility is the largest research hub outside the US and is intimately involved in nearly all of IBM’s endeavors, Bloom said.
After selling off its personal computer business, IBM has focused on servers, software and services and has taken its decades of experience heavily into the field of analytics.