December 27, 2010
IBM 2010 Predictions For Next 5 Years

Here are some excerpts from IBM's predictions for the next 5 years. What do you think of these predictions?

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. 

Scientists are working to improve video chat to become holography chat - or "3-D telepresence." The technique uses light beams scattered from objects and reconstructs them a picture of that object, a similar technique to the one human eyes use to visualize our surroundings. 

3-D telepresence will do more for business than for personal communication. The trend for socializing is toward more chatting by typing than by talking. The ratio of typed to spoken cell phone conversations keeps going up. Think about it: Do you spend more time in chat rooms, instant messaging, email, and Facebook? Or do you spend more time on the phone?

Better batteries using air.

Batteries will breathe air to power our devices

Ever wish you could make your lap top battery last all day without needing a charge? Or what about a cell phone that powers up by being carried in your pocket?

Battery improvements will certainly keep coming. But will they have their biggest impact on hand-held devices? Or on cars? My guess: cars. Oil is too expensive and the remaining oil is deep offshore or in other places hard to reach. In the United States 94% of transportation energy comes from oil. Even that number understates the dependency since corn ethanol (shown as renewable energy in that graph) requires so much oil to produce it.

Some feel good pap about how we can all save the planet with personal technology. Is this practical?

You won’t need to be a scientist to save the planet

While you may not be a physicist, you are a walking sensor. 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. 

One idea: Imagine putting camera collars on big cats. Suppose the cameras could be powered from the movement of the cats (I'm reaching). Far more people would get off on virtually riding along with the cats on hunts than would get off on shooting the cats. The cameras might help deter poachers (and then again, maybe not). But habitat destruction wouldn't be stopped by cameras aimed at stopping poachers. Habitat destruction due to growing human populations and industrialization is the root problem. I see continued deterioration.

Computers will tell you how to commute to avoid traffic. Ho hum.

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 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. 

I doubt this will help much. What will help: 3-D holograms that enable you to work from home and yet still do really high quality meetings. What will help longer term: Cars that drive themselves. That'll enable closer packing of cars on the road, higher speed travel, lower accident rates, and time to read and type at a computer while the car computer does the driving.

IBM expects more of the waste heat from computer data centers will get used for useful purposes like heating buildings in winter.

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. 

I question the potential for this idea to do much. Data centers are often located where electric power is cheaper. Really expensive cities (e.g. Manhattan) have rental costs that tend to push data centers out to the suburbs or beyond. So knowledge workers in expensive skyscrapers interact with cloud computers in other states and countries.

What should have made it to IBM's list for the next 5 years? I can think of a few things off the top of my head:

  • The web will answer a lot more of your questions and foresee many more of your wants and needs. The total amount about you sitting up on cloud computers will grow by orders of magnitude and allow marketers and service providers to predict more of your wants and answer your questions in much more personalized fashion.
  • News delivery will become much more integrated into your personal life. For example, your airline reservations will be linked to your personal web page so that you'll see weather forecasts for where you are going. Or if your car needs maintenance it'll send a message to your life manager on some cloud server which will alert your pad or smart phone to offer you shops with time slots available you can select from for an appointment to bring it in.
  • Personal computers with local storage will fade to be replaced more with cloud-linked computers that greatly reduce your PC maintenance burden. Whether Google's Chrome OS or some future Microsoft OS does this it will happen. PC maintenance, security, and data management are far too much work.
  • Better ways for people to collaborate to build up knowledge on the web will be developed. The Wikipedia text editing model will be supplemented with models for structured data entry. Clay Shirky's "cognitive surplus" will be harnessed in more productive fashions.
  • Many of us will get full genome sequencing done.

So what else do you see in the next 5 years? How will faster computing power and cheaper internet bandwidth change our lives? Will biotechnological advances have much of an impact in the next 5 years? Biotech's big impacts seem longer term. Certainly we'll see amazing biotech advances in the 2020s. But will we see any major disease cures in the next 10 years?

Update: Also check out IBM's 2007 predictions for the following 5 years. Note they had cell phones acting like credit/debit cards. That's already the case in Japan and now the Nexus S phone from Google has circuitry to help do that. So this is happening, albeit more slowly. Also, they predicted more active control of cars by car computers. That's happening very gradually with adaptive cruise control and other electronic assists making some driving decisions.

Update II: An article about 3-D and augmented reality reminds me of some areas of continued big advances in the next 5 years:

  • Game quality will soar both in terms of becoming more life-like and also much more complex.
  • As we walk around the amount of enhanced context our glasses and cell phones will add will go up, up, up. Want to know what you are looking at? Stare at it and tap your glasses or point your cell phone and you'll get enormous detail. Point at a house and you'll learn the last selling price of a house, its estimated worth, the likely income of its occupants, and other details. Start at a plant and get its evolutionary history, whether it is an invasive species, and much more.
  • Our augmented information will be customized to our interests to guide us to sales, musical performances, and other experiences which fit with who we are. Walking thru a major city will become a much different experience. In some jurisdictions where privacy laws do not block it we'll be warned of approaching criminals.
Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 December 27 10:11 PM  Trends Technological Advance

David A. Young said at December 28, 2010 9:13 AM:

Due to the ongoing problems with our public school system, the ridiculously high (and growing) cost of secondary education, and the diminishing ability of a degree to assure higher earning potential, I expect to see "education" to continue to become more varied and personalized at all levels of learning -- and I expect technology to play a big part in this, both in remote on-demand learning and in the sophistication of learning software. Although I suspect it'll take more like a decade before the "breakout" status of this trend becomes obviously inevitable to most of the professional commentariat.

Nick G said at December 28, 2010 11:38 AM:

Forecasts like this seem to always suffer from the "exponential problem": change is slow in the short term, fast in the long-term. So, these forecasts are always too ambitions in the short term.

PacRim Jim said at December 28, 2010 5:25 PM:

I don't understand why we don't have piezoelectric devices under highways, to generate electricity.

Randall Parker said at December 28, 2010 5:48 PM:

David A. Young,

Education will be automated and accelerated, greatly reducing costs, increasing availability, and increasing quality.

I expect many lower tier colleges to be forced out of business.

Marcelo said at December 29, 2010 5:50 AM:

I totally agree with the comment above by Nick G. These predicitions almost never materialize in the short term.

Chris T said at December 29, 2010 1:06 PM:

I'm really coming to hate these qualitative technology predictions. The lack of numbers makes them supremely difficult to evaluate at the end of the predicted time frame and the wording frequently makes it possible to defend them over an extremely wide range of outcomes. When making predictions prognosticators should do their utmost to give specific numbers.

Greg F said at December 29, 2010 8:48 PM:
Personal computers with local storage will fade to be replaced more with cloud-linked computers that greatly reduce your PC maintenance burden. Whether Google's Chrome OS or some future Microsoft OS does this it will happen. PC maintenance, security, and data management are far too much work.

Don't think so.
1. You will still need an OS locally
2. Maintenance and security is primarily OS related. Malware infects the OS not the data.
3. Residential Internet connections are asymmetrical. Download speed typically is roughly 5 times faster than upload speed. This puts serious restrictions on storing your data on the Internet.

Go to Speed Test dot net to test your upload/download speed

The results are in bits/second while the file size on your computer is in bytes. A byte is 8 bits so divide your upload speed by 8 to find how many bytes/second you would be able to transfer. Add 20% for wrappers to the size of the file and that will give you approximately the number of bytes you will need to upload.

For example my connection is 5MBits/sec download and 1MBits/sec upload (125 kilobytes/sec). One gig of data would use about 1.2 gig to upload which would take roughly 2 hours and 40 minutes.

I don't think this will happen in 5 years for consumers but this is where I think it will go based on where business systems are going now. The model we have now is the OS is installed on the hardware. The OS talks to the hardware through the HAL (hardware abstraction layer) which is part of the OS. If you do a disk image (or just move the disk) and try to move the OS to different hardware it won't work because different hardware require different drivers. Businesses are moving to a virtual environment where the hardware interface is seperated from the OS with a virtual layer like VMware's ESXi. This virtual layer is small (300kb) and provides a consistant interface from the OS to the hardware independant of the hardware. This means you can start up the OS on any machine that has the virtual layer installed. This also makes the OS portable as you can keep it on an external drive, maybe even a thumb drive. Just plug it in and start it up. Backing up is easy as instead of backing up thousands of files you only have to backup one large file which can be automated. Other advantages are when you shut down you can choose to not save any changes. So if you think you went to a malicious web site just shut down and don't save the changes or go back to a previous backup. Data should be stored seperate from the OS (not on the same partition) so dialing back to a previous copy of the OS doesn't result in the loss of data.

Randall Parker said at December 30, 2010 7:08 PM:

Greg F,

Verizon FIOS at the fastest (albeit pricey) speed is 50 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload. That's an order of magnitude faster than what you have now.

As for speed needs: Depends on your use-cases. You take lots of videos or pictures you want to store on a local drive?

My biggest reservation on Chrome OS is that I've got to be to use multiple browsers. As a blogger I find Firefox (and Seamonkey, also based on Gecko) way better for copying pieces of HTML out of a page. Also, switching between tabs is faster in Firefox, probably because it is all in one process. Or maybe Chrome browser defers screen painting until a tab is viewed.

Greg F said at January 2, 2011 12:01 PM:


Verizon FIOS at the fastest (albeit pricey) speed is 50 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.
What is advertised is not necessarily what you get across the Internet. The advertised download speed from my provider is more than 3 times higher then my previous post. I got 7mb/sec download late morning.
As for speed needs: Depends on your use-cases. You take lots of videos or pictures you want to store on a local drive?
Yes, but not on the local drive on my computer. I expect network storage appliances with RAID arrays for home use to grow quickly. Reliable (redundant), fast, and not dependant on an Internet connection.
My biggest reservation on Chrome OS is that I've got to be to use multiple browsers.
My biggest reservation is Google is an advertising agency.
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