IBM dishes five predictions for future

IBM has released its second annual list of five predictions for the future.

Drained by your commute? Blood-sucking utility bills got you down? Wondering if that tomato in your dinner salad was really organic?

The cures to those ills and more may arrive within five years, according to IBM.

The company recently released its second annual set of "Next Five in Five" predictions, visions that sketch out a future where driving is a relative pleasure, eco-friendly devices save you money and super doctors use advanced technology to probe your body's innermost depths in search of disease.

IBM's contention that driving will become safer and less aggravating may be particularly tantalizing for many.

The company said that during the next five years, a "wave of connectivity" between vehicles and roadways will help keep traffic flowing smoothly, drive down pollution and get you to your destination easier, "without the stress."

This will be accomplished through "intelligent" traffic systems that automatically adjust light patterns and shift traffic to alternative routes, as well as cars that exhibit "reflexes" thanks to communication with other vehicles and roadside sensors, according to IBM.

The company's crystal ball also revealed that the long-simmering trend toward "smart energy" devices will proliferate wildly. "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," a company statement asserts.

Even the act of eating will take on new meaning, in IBM's view: "You will know everything from the climate and soil the food was grown in, to the pesticides and pollution it was exposed to, to the energy consumed to create the product, to the temperature and air quality of the shipping containers it traveled through on the way to your dinner table."

The report also suggests that doctors' ability to heal us will become even more astounding. Due to advances in X-ray and audio technologies, doctors will gain "superpowers," according to IBM. Computers will also be able to compare your health data to an ocean's worth of other patient records, helping with diagnosis and treatment, the company said.

In addition, the company said cell phones will continue to grow in power and functionality. For example, phones will enable users to snap a photo of an article of clothing, pull in results from the Web about the brand and where to buy it, and then render the garment on top of a 3-D image of the user, IBM said.

IBM's list received a measured nod from Edward Cornish, editor of The Futurist magazine and past president of the World Future Society.

"Basically, the five forecasts seem to me to be quite reasonable," Cornish said. "They're based on technologies that have been around for a number of years and are simply extrapolations."

The Futurist has released its own list of predictions for 2008 and beyond.

The organization contends, among other things, that the world will have a billion millionaires by 2025; the earth is on the verge of a "significant extinction event"; and "nonhuman entities," such as robots fueled by artificial intelligence, will make more decisions.

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Chris Kanaracus

IDG News Service

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