IBM predicts talking Web, solar-powered mobile phones, more

IBM's 'Next Five in Five' predicts innovations that will change our lives

A talking Web, solar technology embedded in windows and mobile phones, and the end of forgetting will all come in the next five years, IBM predicts in its third annual Next Five in Five list, detailing innovations that could change our lives in the next half-decade.

The other predictions: We will all have digital shopping assistants and, separately, "crystal balls" to predict our future health.

"The Next Five in Five is based on market and societal trends expected to transform our lives, as well as emerging technologies from IBM's Labs around the world that can make these innovations possible," IBM says.

Here's a look at IBM's five predictions announced this week:

1. Solar power will be built into asphalt sidewalks, driveways, siding, paint, rooftops and windows. New thin-film solar cells will be cost-effective and incredibly thin, allowing them to be applied just about anywhere.

"Until now, the materials and the process of producing solar cells to convert into solar energy have been too costly for widespread adoption," IBM says. "These new thin-film solar cells can be 'printed' and arranged on a flexible backing, suitable for not only the tops but also the sides of buildings, tinted windows, mobile phones, notebook computers, cars and even clothing."

2. You will have a crystal ball for your health -- not a real crystal ball, but sophisticated analyses of your own DNA will tell you what types of health risks you face in your lifetime and the specific steps you can take to prevent them. DNA analyses will cost less than US$200, IBM says, making them affordable for many. In addition to predicting health risks, IBM says the technology will tell us what we're not at risk for, perhaps enabling certain people to enjoy foods like French fries and potato chips without guilt. Besides personal health profiles, DNA mapping will help drug companies design new, more effective medicine.

"Ever since scientists discovered how to map the entire human genome, it has opened new doors in helping to unlock the secrets our genes hold to predicting health traits and conditions we may be predisposed to," IBM says.

3. "You will talk to the Web . . . and the Web will talk back." Someday soon you will surf the Internet using just your voice, a development that will make the Web more widely accessible worldwide, particularly for those who cannot read or write.

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Jon Brodkin

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