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5 Big Future Breakthroughs in Innovation

Thinking of giving your friend a call? Your smartphone will already have instantaneously placed the call in the world of tomorrow — it unlocked itself from secure mode as soon as it heard your name or recognized your face in its camera. That's the vision based on two of five technological breakthroughs which could revolutionize the world within the next five years, according to IBM.
/ Source: InnovationNewsDaily.com


Thinking of giving your friend a call? Your smartphone will already have instantaneously placed the call in the world of tomorrow — it unlocked itself from secure mode as soon as it heard your name or recognized your face in its camera. That's the vision based on two of five technological breakthroughs which could revolutionize the world within the next five years, according to IBM.

The other three breakthroughs may sound both strangely familiar and also wildly ambitious. Emerging technologies can transform any movement or vibration into energy to keep devices such as smartphones charged. Junk mail could vanish once email programs learn to screen messages based on seeing what you do or don't read or delete. The spread of mobile devices in places such as Africa could even lead to the end of the digital divide that keeps many people from having basic access to knowledge.

IBM's sixth annual "Next Five in Five" evolved from an older idea of predicting globally transformative technologies within the next 10 years. It changed its approach when it realized the "futility" of a 10-year outlook for fast-moving technologies.

"We're talking about things that change the world," said Bernie Meyerson, vice president of innovation at IBM. "Deciding if something will happen in two years, five years or 10 years is a bit silly. If it'll change the world, it'll change the world."

Energy from motion

The first way to change the world is to turn any and every motion into energy. Piezoelectric materials and other renewable sources could harvest kinetic energy from jogging, bicycling or even water flowing through pipes to help power homes, offices and perhaps entire cities.

But it goes beyond simply harvesting energy. IBM envisions a smart energy system that can let people know when they should charge their electric car or iPhone — and perhaps give them a small discount for charging the devices at certain hours.

"People power will become a reality," Meyerson told InnovationNewsDaily. "We're really referring to how a person will literally become fully integrated into the smart grid."

Eye scanner security

A second breakthrough may come from the growing use of biometrics. Rather than remember many passwords for the ATM or online banking, people could use a combination of biometric data such as voice and face recognition, as well as perhaps even iris scanning.

Handheld devices could eventually carry out the verification by themselves and then upload an encrypted "OK" signal, rather than requiring users to upload all their biometric data to the Internet. That could ease privacy concerns if such a system can prove secure enough, Meyerson said.

Mind-reading devices for all

Someday, people may also control smartphones or even smart cars by just using "mind-reading" devices — the third predicted breakthrough. Crude headsets that measure the brain's electrical activity already work with simple games, even as researchers have tested using such headsets to control robots or robotic devices.

IBM engineers and others have begun working on better computer algorithms that can translate brain activity patterns into action.

"There's training because everyone's brain is highly unique," Meyerson explained. "You need an extremely robust training algorithm because it's very individualized."

Bridging the digital divide

The fourth of IBM's predicted technological breakthroughs sounds basic — eliminating the digital divide between people who regularly check their e-mail on smartphones and those who don't even have access to electricity. But achieving it could lead to a "flattening" or equalizing of the world more so than any of the other possible breakthroughs.

"We believe it will cease to exist in next five years," Meyerson said. "An estimated 80 percent of people in the next five years will have a mobile device."


Turning junk mail into must-reads

The fifth breakthrough could turn the barrage of email spam and display advertisements into a personalized "Minority Report" experience. That would require a software program capable of monitoring an individual's email reading actions and knowing his or her social networks.

If the analytics program sees you search for hotel tickets in a particular part of the Bahamas and then spots cheap tickets several days later, it could even alert you about them.

"There is enough intelligence today so that systems learn by behaviors instead of by rules," Meyerson said.

Much development work remains ahead for researchers and companies before any breakthrough can become an innovation that changes the world. But IBM's focus on analytics programs and information systems means that it has an interest in ensuring that any — or all — eventually come true.

You can follow InnovationNewsDaily Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu on Twitter @ ScienceHsu. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @ News_Innovation, or on Facebook.