IBM’s vision for the next five years

IBM’s five predictions in five years looks at innovations from the doctors surgery to the classroom, and paints a picture of a smarter society with data at the centre.

You can’t really lose with five-year predictions; if five years elapse and they still haven’t come true, you need only apologise for being too far ahead of your time – assuming anyone remembers you made them in the first place.

With its 5 in 5 predictions, IBM has for eight years made an annual exercise of casting its imagination forward half a decade. This year, its crystal ball sees learning in all our futures, as intelligent cities, schools and healthcare figure out how to give us what we need without being asked.

It’s all down to a new era of cognitive systems in which machines ‘will learn, reason and engage with us in a more natural and personalised way’, driven by cloud computing, big data analytics and learning technologies.

Here’s how they see it unfolding:

The classroom will ‘learn’ you

The cloud-based classroom of the future will learn about each individual student over the course of their education, suggests IBM, helping them to master the skills that match their goals. ‘Imagine a system that knows you are a visual learner with a maths phobia. Not only will the classroom create a lesson plan to help you master algebra, it will pre-empt difficulties in calculus and maybe even tailor coursework to a particular career. It’s the end of the era of one-size-fits-all education and the beginning of personalised, experiential learning.’

Buying local will beat online

Online retail may now be worth a trillion dollars worldwide, but that’s not the last word. ‘In five years, bricks and mortar stores will have fought back to become better than etailers can ever hope to be, merging the tactility and immediacy of physical retail with the richness and personalization of online,’ they suggest. It’s all about augmented reality, wearable computing and location-based technologies, which will break the abilities of the internet out into the real world, making the physical experience superior to a pure online one.

Doctors will routinely use your DNA to keep you well

Medicine reinvented by data scientists doesn’t necessarily always pass muster with actual doctors, but IBM nonetheless has a data-driven solution for pesky ill health. ‘Today, full DNA testing to help make treatment decisions is still rare. But cognitive systems and cloud computing may make this form of treatment mainstream. It could be done faster, more affordably and much more frequently. In addition to DNA testing for cancers, we may even see DNA-specific personalized treatment options for conditions such as stroke and heart disease.’ By crunching DNA data and huge repositories of medical records, IBM suggests, there’ll be a diagnosis and a treatment plan in minutes.

A digital guardian will protect you online

The innovation here is a contextual security system that observes everything you do online, blocks out the nasties and handles all your passwords for you. This is one for the identity-theft brigade, but it also relates to the everyday irritation of passwords, which IBM suggests could be a thing of the past within five years. Technologically, that’s perfectly achievable, but do we want to surrender the personal data that will make it possible?

The city will help you live in it

You know the deal with this one. More than half of us live in cities, so why shouldn’t cities harness smart technology to make our lives better? ‘Picture a city that knows not only when it’s raining or when trains run, but also knows its citizens. With residents freely providing information, device data and social sentiment, cities will interpret billions of events in real time,’ says IBM.

Needless to say, such predictions say at least as much about IBM and the services it provides as they do about the actual future that awaits us all. Indeed, its picks all have their roots in very current talking points, such as security, localisation and personalisation.

Here’s a run-down of IBM’s past forecasts, going back five years. Some of them, you’ll notice, are still doing the rounds:


  • Energy-saving solar technology will be built into asphalt, paint and windows
  • You will have a crystal ball for your health
  • You will talk to the web . . . and the web will talk back
  • You will have your own digital shopping assistants
  • Forgetting will become a distant memory


  • Cities will have healthier immune systems
  • City buildings will sense and respond like living organisms
  • Cars and city buses will run on empty
  • Smarter systems will quench cities’ thirst for water and save energy
  • Cities will respond to a crisis – even before receiving an emergency phone call


  • You’ll beam up your friends in 3-D
  • Batteries will breathe air to power our devices
  • You won’t need to be a scientist to save the planet
  • Your commute will be personalised
  • Computers will help energize your city


  • People power will come to life
  • You’ll never need a password again
  • Mind reading is no longer science fiction
  • The digital divide will cease to exist
  • Junk mail will become priority mail


  • Touch:  You will be able to touch through your phone
  • Sight: A pixel will be worth a thousand words
  • Hearing: Computers will hear what matters
  • Taste: Digital taste buds will help you eat smarter

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