IBM's annual list of five innovations set to change our lives in the next five years


December 28, 2010

IBM's Next 5 in 5 list predicts 5 technologies that will impact us in the next 5 years

IBM's Next 5 in 5 list predicts 5 technologies that will impact us in the next 5 years

Image Gallery (6 images)

IBM has announced its fifth annual Next Five in Five – a list of five technologies that the company believes “have the potential to change the way people work, live and play over the next five years.” While there are no flying cars or robot servants on the list, there are holographic friends, air-powered batteries, personal environmental sensors, customized commutes and building-heating computers.

3D telepresence

It may not be a flying car, but it’s definitely one we’ve seen in sci-fi movies before – the ability to converse with a life-size holographic image of another person in real time. The futurists at IBM point to recent advances in 3D cameras and movies, predicting that holography chat (aka 3D telepresence) can’t be all that far behind. Already, the University of Arizona has unveiled a system that can transmit holographic images in near-real-time.

It is also predicted that 3D visualization could be applied to data, allowing researchers to “step inside” software programs (wasn’t that just in a movie?), computer models, or pretty much anything else that is limited by a simple 2D screen. IBM compares it to the way in which the Earth appears undistorted when we experience it first-hand in three dimensions, yet it appears pinched at the top and bottom when we see it on a two-dimensional world map.

Air-powered or non-existent batteries

Lithium-air batteries are already in the works, and IBM predicts that batteries “that use the air we breath to react with energy-dense metal” will result in smaller, lighter rechargeable batteries that last ten times longer than today’s lithium-ion variety. While such batteries could be used in everything from cars to home appliances, it is also suggested that small items such as mobile phones might not need batteries at all. IBM is trying to reduce the amount power required for such devices to less than 0.5 volts per transistor. At those rates, it is claimed, they could be powered via “energy scavenging” – like already-existing kinetic wrist watches that get their power from the user’s arm movements, or experimental piezoelectric devices.

Personal sensors creating “citizen scientists”

As it currently stands, most scientific data must be gathered by scientists, who have to go out in the field and set up sensors or other data recording devices. Within five years, however, a lot of that data could be gathered and transmitted by sensors in our phones, cars, wallets, computers, or just about anything else that is subjected to the real world. Such sensors could be used to create massive data sets used for everything from fighting global warming to tracking invasive species. IBM also sees custom scientific smartphone apps playing a part in “citizen science,” and has already launched an app called Creek Watch, that allows us regular folks to update the local water authority on creek conditions.

Customized commutes

Invaluable as Mapquest and other online mapping services have become to many of us, apparently it’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the not-so-distant future, says IBM, sensors and other data sources (such as the aforementioned citizen scientists, perhaps?) will provide a continuous stream of information on traffic conditions, road construction, public transit schedules, and other factors that could affect your commute. When you inquire about the quickest way of getting from A to B, computer systems will do more than simply consulting a map – they will also take into account all the variables unique to that day and time, combine them with mathematical models and predictive analytics technologies, and advise a route accordingly. It is also possible that, utilizing such data, traffic management systems could learn traffic patterns, and self-adjust themselves to minimize congestion.

Harvesting computer heat

It is estimated that half of the energy consumed by data centers goes toward cooling computer processors, with most of the removed hot air simply being blown into the atmosphere. Instead, IBM sees that heat being captured to warm the air in other areas of the building, to heat water, or to be converted into electricity. The company has already developed an on-chip water-cooling system for computer clusters, which is being demonstrated on the Swiss Aquasar supercomputer. It utilizes a network of microfluidic capillaries inside a heat sink, attached to the surface of each chip. Water flows within a few microns of the semiconductor material, picks up heat from it, then pipes the warm water to a heat exchanger – from there, the cooled water returns to the computers, within a closed loop system.

As with last year’s list, given that all of these technologies are already in experimental use, it’s a pretty good bet that they will indeed one day find their way our lives. Whether that day is within the next five years, however, is another question.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

What is IBM\'s track record with these annual predictions?


Star Treck TV series writers came up with \"citizen scientists\" idea first. They were known as \"Borg\". aka \"The Collective\". Beam me up 7 of 9.

Dave B13

The quicker the better for the battery technology. Anything that stops the useless out of date mode of central energy production (like power stations) has my vote. Where have all the news items gone about micro power generators we can all have in our own back yards? Kill oil, bring on real energy solutions!


I don\'t see anything that\'s going to kill oil. Nothing on this list is energy-dense enough to power a car.

Communication and data transfer improvements will change our lives a bit, nothing earth-shattering though.

James Dugan

Wasn't it IBM who said they could see no use for a personal computer?

"I think there is a world market for about five computers" Remark attributed to Thomas J. Watson (Chairman of the Board of International Business Machines), 1943.


Here is my 1 1/2 cent: 3D Telepresence? Nice idea, but like the video phone I do not see it becoming a huge thing. Do we really need more than Skype? Low Power/No Power Storage. Please. The more efficient technology becomes the more we will demand of it. There is always a trade off between processing power and energy storage. We may be able to get to the point of having watches without batteries, but I-Phones? They are wrong on this one. At least for the next five years..... \"Citizen Scientist\". Already happening with the World Community Grid. Of course here they are talking about portable units. If they can use existing hardware in smartphones to collect data it could be a moment. But they still have to get people to download the software voluntarily. Due to this I am not sure how big a moment this will be. People are welcoming more security aware. Customized Commutes. We are almost there already with some navigation software. As more people embrace navigation and put it on their smartphones the software will only get better. I think they are right on this one. Harvesting Computer Heat. I think this will become common and save a great deal of energy. With that said, if your company harvested computer heat to save energy; would that \"change how you work, live and play\"? Not really..... I am not saying any of these are bad ideas. Just saying I am doubtful most of them will live up to their expectations..... -Tech Dennis

Building heating computers. That was seen as a nuisance back in the days of vacuum tubes! Now IBM thinks it will be an \"innovation\". Anyone else remember the IBM television advertisement with sweating office workers amazed their IBM computers are still working even though their building\'s air conditioner has failed?

A dual CPU G5 Power Macintosh by itself will take the chill off a small room. That\'s one of the reasons Apple switched to Intel CPUs, IBM/Motorola/Freescale could not scale up the speed of the PowerPC design any more without requiring industrial strength cooling systems.

Can\'t keep your computers cooler than your competition? Sell the excess waste heat as a \"feature\"!

Facebook User

Actually, I see the \"citizen scientist\" (or at least citizen data collector) part of this taking off, as long as the phones find a way of collecting data without biasing the data set, and of keeping measurement and measurement accuracy consistent enough to be usable. Even the security conscious will probably be more at ease with sending computer agglomerated anonymous data than they would be with a normal internet search. What remains is for (trained) scientists to set up good data collection applications.

I am doubtful that commutes will get better until we have another oil crisis. The simple fact is that we have more cars on a road system that is, in most cases, designed on ideas that are dozens of years out of date. While the idea that GPS advances might fix this is good, there are plenty of people with a strong enough understanding of alternate routes that you can already see how ineffectual this type of program would really be, and further this does almost nothing to alleviate true causes of congestion: single occupant vehicles (not single occupancy, which are lighter and take up less space) that form the bulk of the viscous fluid that is lovingly called \"traffic jam\" have already \"spread to fill their container\" and trailered vehicles, which create traffic whirlpools due to slower speeds and reduced visibility will continue to use roads during high volume traffic times unless economy and policy move to disincentivise this behavior.

My experience is that municipalities have neither the money, the inclination, or the ability to agree on a solution that is necessary to fix any but the most pressing traffic problems, and until either that changes or people simply learn to rely on road systems less, there will be traffic.

Charles Bosse

Since no one reads the long post...

The only one that may come to life in 5 years is the water cooled computer.. OH WAIT we\'ve been doing that for decades.. Personally I doubt that the energy from those chips will significantly impact the world. I could be wrong, there is a first time for everything..

Michael Mantion

IBM is giant among giants in Inventions and Innovations. Well keep it up.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh

There might be some self fulfilling prophecies amongst them but I\'m surprised not to hear from nano technology nor ionic fluids any-more.. The biggest deficit we have is in specification and customer choice. IBM is ideally suited to solve those two problems so we only use that product quality we need- savings lots of resources. You tell me that this negative growth is not amongst the strategies we might follow? May be but come another 20 years and you will see some resource scarcity.

Gerfried Hans

gona be an amazing year :-)

Facebook User

Disappointed not to see smart roads/cars we drive or drive selves while we tweet! :-) What about\'a pair of glasses to rule them all?!\' We need HUD/projection glasses to watch TV/net, control all home/car/office devices??? We save by having \'smart monitoring/control/improvement under our purview!


Humm. Computer chip heat. Nope going by the wayside. Look for diamond chips that hold much more data and are far cooler. Now why didn\'t IBM mention that. Do a search on Debeers (sp) You know the diamond people and why they are getting out of the diamond business and going to silicone valley??? Just saying...

S Michael
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles