Technologies IBM Predicts Will Arrive in the Next Five Years

By Bobby Schweizer

The annual list of technologies that may become a part of our future daily lives.

Every year IBM predicts five technologies that will emerge within the subsequent five years. Past predictions have included smart utility meters, self-driving cars, RFID tagged food, voice-controlled computing, and digital shopping assistants.  
IBM has released its  2010 predictions of the five technologies that will emerge in the next five years. And while that doesn't seems like a long time, remember that five years ago people were using the first batch of Palm Treos and the iPhone was but a glimmer in Steve Jobs' eyes.  


Environmental Sensors

IBM's first prediction is the proliferation of environment sensing technologies integrated into daily life. They will appear in places like your phone, your cameras, your car, and your wallet and will gather data that can be reported back to scientists who will benefit from improved distributed readings of environmental factors like changes in weather, geological patterns, and animal and plant life. But while it does seem plausible that in five years we will have more sensors, I predict it will involve passive reception rather than active collection.  


Remember when CNN "used hologram technology" during the presidential elections in 2009? And remember when it wasn't a hologram at all but rather a green screened trick? Well IBM hopes to correct this to give everybody a chance to do "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi" schtick right in their living rooms. While I won't deny the feasibility of hologram projection, it's hard to imagine it being used for personal communication in which having the person present is no more than a novelty. If the hologram becomes a reality it will more likely be used for 3D models in science, engineering, and design that would benefit from spatial visualization.  

New Batteries

battery fueled by air. The battery works by drawing oxygen through porous carbon to create an electrical charge which can be stored in the battery. The technology is currently being developed and is actually a plausible prediction. Though we'll probably first see it in specialized devices, like scientific research equipment used in the rainforest that can't be readily charged, there's a good chance air-fueled batteries might power your mobile phone in five years.   

Data Centers for Heating

Data centers are electricity hogs because they require massive cooling infrastructure to keep the thousands of computers from overheating. IBM, who owns data centers all over the globe, is hoping that the heat lost in the cooling process can be transferred elsewhere. They want to use that waste to heat water which can then be pumped locally to heat buildings. Because the technology is so specific in application, it's likely to appear in the next five years. And hopefully it will influence others to think about distributed utilities.  

Personalized Commutes

Finally, IBM predicts adaptive travel systems which personalize an individual's commute. The system learns a person's transportation habits and will help coordinate optimal routes. Sounds a lot like one of Norm's favorite videos. But as with every transportation future video, IBM's prediction depicts a city with almost no traffic. Traffic in the cities of the world is so bad that personalized recommendations are unlikely to have an impact. Behavioral changes might slightly improve driving conditions, but sweeping infrastructural overhaul is required to make a significant impact on the transportation conditions of cities.   

Whether or not any of these predictions come true, it is encouraging to see a major company thinking about the future of personal, community, and scientific technology beyond the next device or software update. Let us know how you feel about the likelihood of IBM's predictions in the comments.