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12/17/2013
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Doug Henschen
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IBM Predicts Next 5 Life-Changing Tech Innovations

IBM unveils its annual "5 in 5" list of technology breakthroughs that promise to change how we work and live within five years. Real promise or PR fantasy?
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IBM issued its eighth annual "IBM 5 in 5" list Tuesday, Dec. 17, once again noting five potentially life-changing innovations that will make their mark within five years. The theme behind this year's list is cognitive computing, whereby learning machines will help us do a better job of teaching, selling, treating patients, protecting security, and making cities more livable.

Cognitive computing has been a big push for IBM in 2013. That's the technology behind Watson, the reigning non-human "Jeopardy" champion that IBM is trying to quickly evolve from an interesting technology demo into the practical, commercially successful brain behind real-world applications.

In one of her first major public events as IBM's CEO, Ginny Rometty declared early this year that we're entering a third wave of computing. In the first wave, computers were used to count. In the second wave, computers became programmable so they could execute instructions.

"The third era will be about computers that learn," she said. "It has to be because information is too big and growing too fast, so you can't program it. The computer has to learn, by itself."

Taking advantage of machines that are "aware," IBM says we can look forward to classrooms that learn about students and then personalize coursework and support accordingly. Local, brick-and-mortar stores have been getting clobbered by online retailers, but IBM predicts that over the next five years augmented reality, wearable computing, and location intelligence will bring local retailers back into the game.

On the healthcare front -- an industry where Watson is already being put to work -- IBM predicts that cancers will be routinely treated at the DNA level within five years. With these personalized treatments, based on the DNA of the patient and their tumors, we'll see more effective treatments and fewer unnecessary side effects. This is already happening, but within five years costs will decrease dramatically and a now-rarified treatment will become commonplace, says IBM.

There were 12.6 million victims of identity fraud last year in the US alone, but IBM predicts that within five years we'll all have our own "digital guardians" that will watch over our digital lives, using cloud-based analytics to learn the difference between our normal activity and potentially dangerous online activity.

In a final prediction, IBM says that within five years cities will become more adaptive thanks to cloud-based social feedback, crowdsourcing, and predictive analytics. Systems will connect to billions of sensors to sense and respond to traffic and transit patterns and human preferences and demand, enabling city managers and leaders to respond quickly to constituent needs and dynamically reallocate resources.

Are we on our way to responsive schools, retail stores, healthcare, digital devices, and governments? Read more about IBM's predictions and evidence and add your comments on what's realistic and what's a pipe dream.

Doug Henschen is executive editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor-in-chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor-in-chief of Transform Magazine, and executive editor at DM News.

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Ellis Booker
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Ellis Booker,
User Rank: Strategist
12/18/2013 | 12:03:26 PM
Liking this "Top Five" list
There should be more of these. That ol' annual standby, the Top 10 List, tends to be watered-down effort by the seventh item.  
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
12/17/2013 | 11:46:04 PM
Re: Local retail
Good point and I agree that what you have mentioned does happen a lot, on the other hand I have also noticed that a consumer could go online and gather as much information as possible from an online retailer through products review etc and then finally ends up buying the product from an off-line store. I guess, these situations arise when either the online store does not have a reputation of a high level of trust with the consumer, and the off line store is not charging above the differences that the consumer is willing to pay that is accompanied with physical stores.

Online retail is big and is growing, but since offline retail has also managed to stay in business, I have a feeling that if these offline retail stores do embrace technology than IBM's prediction about retail will come true, even if we only consider the value that trust brings, through physical presences of the store. 
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
12/17/2013 | 8:06:16 PM
Local retail
I agree that local retailers will make digital part of the store experience -- I'm surprised big boxes such as Best Buy haven't made more progress creating a digital experience. But I'm not clear how that experience answers the question of showrooming -- that a person doesn't soak up your store experience and knowledgable staff, and now also your digital experience, and then still buy it for a bit less online. Did I miss that?  
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
12/17/2013 | 3:26:05 PM
Personalization is the theme
Cognitive computing makes it sound like a science experiment. "Personlization technology" is a more user-fiendly term, and it's really what we're talking about here -- personalized teaching, retailing, medicine, security and ... okay, maybe that doesn't fit as well on the cities front.

As for which of these are real and doable within five years, I'd say personalized medicine and responsive, connected city infrastructure are already well along. The cynic in me makes me think physical retailing and education are areas where IBM would like to get lots of consulting bucks, but I have to wonder if anybody can really move the needle with technology alone. As for security, here, too, there's lots of money up for grabs, but IBM isn't the first name I think of when it comes to security. Wouldn't RSA, McAfee or Symantic be more likely to bring this innovation?

To be fair, IBM didn't say it would necessarily lead all these innovations (though it pointed to projects on all five fronts), it just said they're coming. 
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
12/17/2013 | 2:41:36 PM
Big impact will come from more intelligent response to disease
IBM's prediction on the revival of retail is intriguing. But I think the real impact highlighted on this list is the change that will come about in cancer treatment and health care. DNA information is a powerful tool for coming up with the right way to counter disease. Cancer is a one target, but so are the mitochondrial diseases, Parkinsons, Lou Gerhrig's disease, Huntington's disease, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, which are linked to DNA mutations. As we build up the knowledge base of what works with each type of mutation, based on individual genomic treatments will become much more effective.
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