IBM has released its sixth annual prediction for the five technological innovations that will have the greatest impact on society in the next five years. Included in the list are mind-reading technology that seems more like science fiction and biometrics that hold the promise of eliminating the need for passwords.
On the telepathic front, IBM researchers are working on linking the brain to a computer or smartphone. With the latter, someone would only have to think about calling someone to make it happen. On a computer, people could move a cursor by thinking about where it should go. Beyond electronics, IBM says the technology would have applications in rehabilitation and in understanding brain disorders, such as autism.
Anyone who uses the Internet regularly has run into the problem of forgetting the password to a web site. IBM is looking to fix that with "multifactor biometrics," which would combine a retinal scan, the person's voice or other personal characteristics to verify who they are.
Other emerging innovations include technology to harness everyday motion to produce energy to help power a house or recharge a smartphone. The latter could be done while pedaling a bicycle, while greater sources of energy could include harnessing energy from ocean waves. IBM is testing technology for the latter in Ireland.
IBM predicts that the digital divide between rich and poor will disappear in five years as inexpensive mobile devices perform the functions of today's PCs, such as mobile commerce and remote healthcare. IBM expects speech recognition to become a primary mechanism for performing tasks on a smartphone or tablet.
Finally, IBM imagines analytics getting much more involved in people's lives. For example, by combining a person's preferences and his calendar, software will be able to ask whether it should buy concert tickets for a Friday night that's free. Analytics also could be used to suggest alternate travel plans when inclement weather is detected along the route.
IBM's track record at predicting the future is spotty. In 2006, the company said mobile phones would start to read our minds. For now, we'll have to be satisfied with speech-recognition technology that's just starting to become useful. IBM also predicted five years ago a 3D Internet, immediate speech translation, technologies the size of atoms to address areas of environmental importance and remote health care from nearly anywhere in the world.