IBM's Top Five Tech Bets for Next Five Years

IBM just issued its annual list of five predictions of developments in technology that it thinks will come true in the next five years. Like lots of predictive lists, particularly those that come around New Year’s, this is something of a pseudo-event that serves as an advertisement for the predictor’s own product or service. IBM’s is no different in that regard, but it is worth looking at, both for the pedigree of who is doing the predicting, and what IBM’s choices say about itself.

“To predict the next five years, you have to have a deep understanding of the last 50,” said Bernie Meyerson, vice-president of innovation at IBM, and a highly regarded researcher in advanced microprocessor design and computer systems who oversees the list’s creation. And so here are the predictions

Small amounts of energy created by actions like people walking or water moving through pipes will be captured, stored in batteries and used to power things like phones, cars or homes. “You’ll see new ecosystems of generation and capture,” Mr. Meyerson said. “You generate 60 to 65 watts while walking. You could easily use that to power a phone forever.”

There will be no more passwords, as increasingly powerful phones and sensors will store your personal biometric information, enabling machines to automatically know you are who you say you are.

Better sensors on and inside the human brain will allow for mental control of objects. Already there are experiments involving moving cursors by thinking, but his prediction is that technology will go further. “You will observe thought patterns, which are highly personal,” he said. “You can use this to better understand stroke, or disorders like autism.”

Powerful mobile devices, capable of precise language translation, will belong to 80 percent of the world’s population. While this is nearly intuitive, given the ever-lower cost of phones, the real breakthrough will be ubiquitous voice recognition and translation capabilities, which will make the phones highly useful to large populations who are illiterate, or who have languages that aren’t easily written with keypads.

IBM's Top Five Tech Bets for Next Five Years