In the waning days of 2010, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) announced five innovations it claims "have the potential to change the way people work, live and play over the next five years."
I don't know who put the list together at IBM but only one item on it -- the potential for devices like mobile phones that will not require batteries -- really grabbed my attention. The rest were merely interesting and at least one borders on being pedestrian. For instance, I didn't know what to make of IBM's statement that "you won't need to be a scientist to save the planet." I thought that was pretty obvious.
Scientists in general are not trying as a group to save the planet. In fact, many of the hazardous materials that have polluted the earth nowadays are a result of scientific explorations and inventions. I am not knocking scientists, okay? They have done wonders for mankind and businesses as well as individuals enjoy today the fruits of their labors. However, like most blades, inventions by scientists tend to cut both ways depending upon how they are deployed. I agree you don't have to be a scientist to save the planet but does that belong in a list of spectacular technological innovations from a company like IBM?
IBM's list and explanations follow. My verdict, in italics, follows each item. I would like to know what you think of them.
You'll beam up your friends in 3-D: In the next five years, 3-D interfaces -- like those in the movies -- will 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, you will be able to interact with photos, browse the Web and chat with your friends in entirely new ways.
My verdict: Please tell me this technology breakthrough also has a business application or at least the potential for much more than adding to the pile of useless software tools we continue to invent. Beaming up holographic images of a friend sounds more naughty than useful. IBM said the 3-D data could "allow engineers to step inside designs of everything from buildings to software programs, running simulations of how diseases spread across interactive 3-D globes." Great, but the concluding part of the sentence was not very encouraging. 3-D data could help engineers visualize "trends around the world on Twitter – all in real time and with little to no distortion," IBM said. Truly disappointing.
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 cell phone that powers up by being carried 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 do today. And better yet, in some cases, batteries may disappear altogether in smaller devices.
My verdict: I love it. Even better, the technology exists already as IBM further said. In fact, it's so futuristic we may finally get batteries that are so advanced they are "capable of powering everything from electric cars to consumer devices," according to IBM. I have no objection to this, certainly not when crude oil is selling for almost $100 per barrel.
You won’t need to be a scientist to save the planet: 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 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.
My verdict: First, IBM is saying the obvious here. Many of the people fighting to save the planet today are not scientists although we are all glad to have them in our camp. Sensors in my wallet? Absolutely not. Semiconductor companies marketing sensors would like us to be surrounded by sensors but there's an element of overkill here. Perhaps I am being too suspicious of Big Brother but I don't want a talking wallet. Still, the sensors can certainly help generate the information we need to be better stewards of our environment and better humans.
Your commute will be personalized: Imagine your commute with no jam-packed highways, no crowded subways, no construction delays and not having to worry about being late for work. 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 available today.
My verdict: I like the idea of personalized commute based on information generated about the larger environment to direct and plan less jam-packed highways and trips. Do we need another five years to develop this, though? The technology exists already. We need to use them now and not wait until we have burned millions more of work hours in needless traffic jams.
Computers will help energize your city: Innovations in computers and data centers are enabling the excessive heat and energy that they give off to do things like heat buildings in the winter and power air conditioning in the summer. Can you imagine if the energy poured into the world's data centers could in turn be recycled for a city's use? New technologies, such as novel 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 houses.
My verdict: I have always thought our society continues to waste much of what we generate and that we can still squeeze tremendous productivity from our current systems. This is one of those heartwarming technology developments that help confirm this view. The only challenge here is the will to introduce and implement the technologies identified for this purpose by IBM. I believe many companies may not want to participate or encourage this because it will eat into their current revenue base and erode margins. How do you convince a company that's making money from wasted energy to act against its interest?
Unfortunately, a lot of this is pie in the sky wishful thinking, specifically because too implement parts of the IBM '5 year plan' personal freedom and privacy would need to be given up.
Planned commutes and environmental issues would require 24/7/365 tracking of an individual on a minute by minute basis, which means that any data available would be capable of tracking your exact location. There is already too much 'big brother' mentality from the likes of google, without the tree huggers and scientists getting in on the act.
The IBM review could have been made far better if they had mentioned 'printable' component technology as something more likely to effect us in the next 5 years.
The five innovations that were presented here doesn't sound really innovative in any impactful manner. Particularly 3D and the battery technologies are more realistic already with the developments that we have seen till today. The innovation could be in terms of more efficient and different alternative energy sources. Something like much efficient solar panels is one example.
I'd be very surprised to see useful applications along most of these topics in a five-year timeframe. Big city traffic systems are packed with high-end remote sensing equipment right now, and stop-and-go traffic during rush hour is still the norm. There are interesting wireless charging technologies for mobile phones that exist, and chargeless phones would be a welcome innovation, but I hope air-breathing isn't a requirement! Very big hurdles exist for holography that make it unlikely to be used for much more than identifying credit cards and software.
Personally, I think "5 years" is a very long time frame especially in our sector. Avoiding to speak about geeks' topics, but telling about massive phenomena, two years ago, three years ago applications like social media or mobile development platforms like Android were unkwown for a big part of us. I believe the way to change our lives (and life...) is to overtake now some social barriers. For example: is telecommuting (I mean working from home, at least for certain jobs) universal accepted or, despite technology could allow it, some prejudges are still in place?
I look forward to that wonderful batteries innovation; I hope it is introduced sooner than anticipated, it is a fantastic idea.
However, to see further work on data monitoring devices being implanted in my private confines and all in the name of science; hmm! Definitely no sir. In the United Kingdom, these devices already overwhelm us. Big brother watches you practically everywhere.
Wouldn’t want to see any more of Big brother watching me.
Can you please rank the IBM innovations based on your opinion on which of the innovations will likely to be more profitable for IBM when it gets to the market.
If these innovations really come to fruition, then IBM definitely has a plan that seems to be a smart one. Developing "small form factor products" for other company's products, and the receiving company does the leg work of sales of more efficient products. IBM stands to benefit more by having high volume sales the SFF products or through its license to the manufacturers. The latter seem less hassle though the former may yield more money.
Thanks for the post Bolaji. IBM one of the largest firms which become a essential part of everyone life. Batteries life has to enhanced so we can survive a week time by charging out mobile one time. Data security will be a tough task ahead as it is going to be a 100% electronic world.
All of these sound great…in theory.Unfortunately they all seem very costly and complex to implement within the next 5 years.Seems very aggressive to me.They may be available in a limited fashion (perhaps for certain applications or for select industries to prototype or still being perfected in a lab environment), but not on a mass consumer level ready for prime time. In 5 years, we will still be driving our gas guzzling vehicles (manually of course), sitting in traffic, interacting in 2D while draining our batteries faster than ever. I hope I am wrong.
i agree that all the ideas are realistic and have potential to change our lives but i seriously doubt whether most of these solution will be available to the massed in next 5 years. On the batteries, i remember reading a report saying that the batteries will use air and will last 10 times longer but that was demonstrated only in the lab. As Bolaji rightly points out, the cost usually is quite a formidable factor while commercializing a technology.
On second thoughts, I think the Holographic displays can actually go much beyong provided they let us interact in the correct manner. Imagine, applications for engineers, Doctors, students, scientists which allow system analysis with complete interactive environment instead of 2D and 3D videos. The technology and content required will be huge but the application could be immense for some groups in particluar. I can see this being a key technology in the military facilities of the future.
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