Technology goliath IBM just released its top five predictions for the next five years. We agree with all of their sensible forecasts -- with some additional thoughts.
1. Yes, You Too Can Be Green
There are two types of people in the world: those who recycle assiduously and those who do it under social pressure. Are you the kind of person who mistakenly throws your frozen meal tray in the regular trash, and are too lazy to go back and throw it in the recycling bin? If yes, you probably have a nagging guilt about being a bad earthizen. Have no fear: now even the lazy and apathetic can wear the socially admirable “green” badge.
According to IBM, smart devices will make leading a sustainable lifestyle a breeze. “As data begins to run through our electrical wires, dishwashers, air conditioners, house lights, and more will be connected directly to a 'smart' electric grid, making it possible to turn them on and off using your cell phone or any Web browser. In addition … technology will also provide you with up-to-date reports of electrical usage, so you can monitor how much you are spending and how much energy you are putting out.”
2. Say Goodbye to Accidents and Traffic
What are the two things that drivers fear the most: having an accident and getting stuck in traffic. Thousands of lives are lost each year when drivers fall asleep at the wheel, or lose their judgment when inebriated. Not as devastating, but still terribly frustating is the more regular affliction called “traffic”. Every commuter loses hundreds f hours just sitting in traffic fiddling with the radio and trying unsuccessfully not to lose his cool.
IBM predicts these twin devils of driving will be a thing of the past. “The cities you live in will find a cure for congestion using intelligent traffic systems that can make real-time adjustments to traffic lights and divert traffic to alternate routes with ease. Your car will have driver-assist technologies that will make it possible for automobiles to communicate with each other and with sensors along the road -- allowing them to behave as if they have 'reflexes' so they can take preventive actions under dangerous conditions.”
3. Your Food Will Have No Secrets
Imagine the next time you go to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac and fries. Today, the back of the box that contains the burger lists the calories, fat, protein and other basic nutritional vehicles. But in the future, you could also find listed the soil in which the potatoes for your french fries were raised, the fertilizer that was used, the pollution in the region, and even the air quality of the truck that shipped the potatoes to McDonald’s. According to IBM, all this will happen thanks to “advancements in computer software and wireless radio sensor technologies.”
Does this mean that if a sub-par fertilizer were used, we would stop going to McDonald’s? Or will we toss out the extra information like most of us toss out the paper that comes with our medicines: the one with the very small font that lists all the possible side effects? One thing is for certain, if this information is presented in easily digestible format, consumers will be empowered as never before to become healthy.
4. Your New BFF: Your Cell Phone
Did you ever wonder why so many celebrities end up having affairs with their personal trainers? In some ways, it’s not a surprise. When you’re very busy, you spend regular time with very few people, and they become your trusted friend. Or as good friends are now called: BFF – best friend forever. A BFF is someone who knows everything about you (your tastes, your history, your desires), who forgives all your mistakes and pushes you to achieve all your goals, who helps you plan vacations and parties, and is always there when you need her.
IBM predicts that your new BFF will be your cell phone. Mobiles will become so smart that they will become your personal assistants – storing all your preferences, reminding you to go to the gym, finding you great restaurants, keeping track of your doctor’s appointments, warning you if you are near your credit card limit – the list goes on. For example, “When you turn on your phone in a city you are visiting, it automatically provides you with local entertainment options, activities, and dining options that match your preferences, and then make reservations and purchases tickets for you – like a personal concierge.”
5. The New Superhero: Your Doctor
What if you walked into your doctor’s office, and he looks up and sniffs. “Ah,” he says disapprovingly, “you’ve been drinking again”. Embarrassed, you admit you had a martini day before yesterday. Without looking up, the doctor continues, “and I sense your breath is a bit labored,” something you hadn’t noticed yourself. He looks up and stares at your chest, “Hmm, just as I thought, there is a small nodule in your lung. I’m going to write you a prescription for an MRI to rule out anything serious.” What if doctors had super-senses that gave them X-Ray vision, the ability to smell the slightest flavor, and hear the faintest change in sounds? Forget Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Ironman: Doctorman would be the new superhero, preventing serious illnesses in millions.
IBM thinks your doctor will have “supersense” in five years with the help of new tools. “Your doctor will be able to see, hear and understand your medical records in entirely new ways.” In an instant, the doctor will be able to compare the symptoms he has quickly identified with “hundreds of thousands of other patient records, and be able to be much more precise in diagnosing and also treating you, based on people with similar issues and makeup.”
Here’s a short video by IBM to help you visualize these predictions:
Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.