IBM foretells mind-reading machines


By 2016 consumers will be able to control electronics using brain power alone, people will not need to use passwords, and approximately 5.6 billion people will have phones with data access, IBM has foretold.

The predictions, announced by IBM on Monday, are part of the technology giant’s ‘5 in 5′ project to make five predictions for what tech will look like in five years’ time. The ‘5 in 5’ project has been run since 2006, though the company made no predictions in 2010.

“Every year IBM predicts the future of technology via the IBM 5 in 5 initiative,” Steve Hamm, a strategist in IBM’s corporate communications department, wrote in a blog post. “We assess not just the availability of a new technology but also the likelihood of its large-scale adoption.”

By 2016, consumers will have access to gadgets that ‘read their minds‘, allowing them to call friends and move computer cursors, according to IBM.

IBM has various prototypes that read electrical impulses in parts of the brain associated with movement. In 2010 ZDNet UK visited an IBM research laboratory and was able to drive a remote-controlled car by ‘thinking’ of the direction it should go in.

Computer security will be made simpler for the general person by replacing written passwords with biometric systems. These technologies will let people log into services via voice or iris recognition, with IBM predicting that people will be able to withdraw cash from banks in this way.

Energy harvesting technologies will become commonplace. People’s homes and modes of transport — like bicycles and footwear — will get technology to extract waste energy, allowing them to power electrical devices.

Smartphone use is going to grow, IBM said, predicting that 80 percent of the world’s current population of seven billion people — 5.6 billion people — will possess a smartphone by 2016.

Advertising should become more targeted as well: in the future there will not be any junk mail, IBM said, as advertisers will be able to tailor ads to individuals. “Junk mail will become priority mail,” the company said.

Previous predictions

Some of IBM’s predictions from earlier years are starting to be borne out. Two of its predictions from 2006 — that nanotechnology will become more widely deployed and that many people will be able to access healthcare data remotely — have started to come true.

IBM’s prediction in 2007 that “your cell phone will be your wallet, ticket broker, concierge, bank, shopping buddy and more” seems prescient. Mobile manufacturers across the world have started embedding near-field communication (NFC) technology into handsets. Companies from Google to start-up Square are developing technologies for banking via mobile devices.

In 2008 IBM said by 2013 “you will talk to the web and the web will talk back”. With the launch of the iPhone 4S in late 2011 Apple brought out Siri, an app that can mine data from the internet at the beck and call of the user.

In the same year, IBM predicted “a crystal ball for your health”. The commoditisation of gene-profiling technologies by companies like 23andMe is starting to make accurate predictions of future health a reality for the wealthy.


Rise of the smartphone

IBM’s predictions rest on the premise that computing power will increasingly be embedded in the world around us. Other technology organisations have recently made predictions for 2012 that see the rise of the smartphone as the vanguard of ‘the internet of things’.

“I think 2012 is the year when consumers all around the world start saying no to feature phones and start saying yes to smartphones,” venture capitalist Marc Andreessen told ZDNet UK’s sister site CNET News on Monday. “That’s a big deal.”

Chip designer Intel has also acknowledged the rise in mobile computing, although at the moment it stands to lose out from this trend. Chips made by Cambridge-based ARM power the majority of the world’s phones.

“The mobile internet will grow at a dizzying pace,” Doug Davis, vice president of Intel’s Netbook and Tablet Group, said in Intel’s 2012 Predictions Factsheet (PDF).


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