IBM: 5 Innovations That Will Change Our Lives in 5 Years

In the waning days of 2010, {complink 2470|IBM Corp.} 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

19 comments on “IBM: 5 Innovations That Will Change Our Lives in 5 Years

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    December 31, 2010

    Thanks Bolaji for doing the excellent dissection  of the IBMs forecasts.Some of my views on IBM's forcasts are as below


    1. 3D imgaing –    I would love to see the use of Holographic inteactive 3D images to be helpful  for people who are  staying continents away from thier near and dear ones. For them this virtual in person meetings will be definitely something!

    2. Personalised Transport  – I would visualise a personal transport like the foldable and stackable electric car developed by MIT . You just pick up a car from the road side stack , go whereever you want to go and leave it at your destination . No parking hassles, no polution, less traffic jams because of its compact size, no ownership relared hassles, just pay per use.



  2. maou_villaflores
    December 31, 2010

    I'm not yet born in 1964 🙂 but thats sounds interesting. It seems IBM is a visionary in the IT world. In the article by Boljaji I am curios if all of the technologies mentioned will be released to the public by 2011. If thats so it will be another era of technological revolution.

  3. hwong
    December 31, 2010

    IBM definitely has its advantage when it comes to technological innovation. It's got the capital and resesarch infrastructure. But then due to market pressure, it needs to also cut down spending on R&D in order to become more profitable for the short term trend. For the time being, IBM is doing a decent job in promoting the smart planet and Business analytics and optimization.

  4. maou_villaflores
    December 31, 2010

    Hi Rich…Yes IBM is an American company which works on that manner. But hey they do have offshore offices in India,Philippines,Costa Rica and some parts of the globe where the work is continued while their american counter part is sleeping:-)

  5. Backorder
    December 31, 2010

    Here is my opinion. On a scale of 10:

    1. Holographic? : 5

    2. Battery tech :  10

    3. Planet savvy: 3

    4. Transport : 10

    5. Energy efficient : 9

  6. bolaji ojo
    December 31, 2010

    Rich, My view exactly. I don't want to be cynical but numerous are the innovations that never moved beyond the lab. IBM identifies 5 innovations it hopes will change our lives each year. I wonder how many of the previous predictions made the grade. If you go back and watch old sci-fi movies you would see flying cars and “Beam me up Scotty” devices. I think IBM was being more practical this time around because all of the innovations it identified are already technologically feasible. Moving beyond this to production is a different issue the company did not challenge.

  7. bolaji ojo
    December 31, 2010

    IBM, like other technology companies, must transform R&D innovations into actual products. By moving away from consumer products, the company yielded small form factor products to the likes of Apple and Dell, yet this is today the area that has been able to use existing technologies to advance new designs, production techniques, etc.

    When I look at most of the technologies identified by IBM, I wonder how many of them the company itself can bring to market. Will IBM benefit from these technology innovations or will it develop them and license the technology to others? I can bet Apple would be interested in eliminating batteries from its iPhone, iPod and iPad to dazzle consumers with new tantalizing designs.

  8. Susan Fourtané
    December 31, 2010


    Hi, Bolaji 
    I pretty much agreed with your observations. Here are some thoughts:
    1. 1.-3D – This already exists and it's in use in different ways. Education is a field where 3D comes pretty useful and interesting for both teachers and students. Some schools and colleges are already using 3D in education. There is good application for it in virtual worlds like Second Life. It comes useful also in training. This is not new. It will improve in the next 5 years, sure, but it's not a novelty at all. I also think the examples I am giving presenting are more useful than using 3D to interact with holograms of your friends. Maybe cool for kids and teens in 2015. Even though it could be just as normal as speaking on your cell phone by then. To answer to your question, yes, it has a business application, too.
    2. Batteries will breathe air to power our devices : This is a long time project that has some prototypes in laptops. If I remember correctly college students were testing them.
    3. You won’t need to be a scientist to save the planet : I agree with you. Many of us are doing what we can to contribute for having a healthy planet again, or close to healthy, and we don't have to be rocket scientists to do that. And the same as you, I am grateful to the good scientists who have contributed with wonderful discoveries for humanity. 
    4. Your commute will be personalized : I like the idea but I am not sure if I see it happening. France should build a totally new subway system in Paris to start with. 
    5. Computers will help energize your city : Recycling energy? Show me and then we discuss. -Susan


  9. Anna Young
    December 31, 2010

    It is obvious from the volume of discussions about power resources that this is the one single area of future innovations that will define electronics. Batteries are determining the form factor of many electronic products today but there are still concerns in the market about how much of the power in batteries are wasted and how many equipment could be even smaller today were we to have smaller power sources. Heat dissipation in PCs, cars, heating systems, cooking systems and even our bodies is interesting to companies seeking ways to make money by reducing the incident or even harnessing this in future products. IBM touched on these two important factors and I give the company credit for this.

  10. Backorder
    December 31, 2010

    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.

  11. Himanshugupta
    December 31, 2010

    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.

  12. DataCrunch
    December 31, 2010

    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, w e 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.

  13. kumar1863
    December 31, 2010

    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.

  14. Ms. Daisy
    December 31, 2010


    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.

  15. Anna Young
    January 1, 2011

    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.

  16. mfbertozzi
    January 3, 2011

    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?

  17. stochastic excursion
    January 3, 2011

    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.

  18. elctrnx_lyf
    January 4, 2011

    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.

  19. Hardcore
    January 4, 2011

    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.

    Or the printable memory devices


    It appears that whoever compiled the IBM list clearly was not a high-ranking thinker. 


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