IBM’s Five Predictions About Life In the Near Future
(Buena Vista Images)
(Buena Vista Images)


IBM just released a “5 in 5” list of the technological innovations that, in their opinion, will impact our lives the most by 2022. These proclamations may seem bold, especially in the all-bets-are-off world we live in now, but they’re based on research that’s happening as we speak, much of it conducted by IBM themselves.

Real-time pollution detection
Environmental pollutants are largely invisible, but new sensing technologies are changing that. IBM and a handful of gas and oil companies are developing a wireless, cloud-connected arsenal of smart hardware to better monitor methane emissions.

Networks of IoT sensors located at key points of the nation’s natural gas infrastructure, or even affixed to drones, would continuously monitor pipelines, storage facilities, and wells. Leaks would be found in “minutes, instead of weeks.” That’s a huge change, and a welcome one.

Medical labs on a chip
We already “chip” our pets, so why not chip ourselves? As nanotechnology develops and computing gets more powerful, IBM sees “new medical labs on a chip … tracing invisible clues in our bodily fluids and letting us know immediately if we have reason to see a doctor.”

By 2022, IBM thinks it could be possible to condense the processes of a biochemistry lab down into a single silicon chip, which would be implanted in a handheld or worn device to help people monitor their bodies for biomarkers found in tears, blood, urine, and sweat. Detailed advice for how to improve your health and spot the warning signs of disease would be available to us in a near-instant.

Examine the world through a macroscope
When IBM talks about “macroscopic systems,” they’re referring to a blend of machine-learning algorithms and software that organizes vast amounts of data. All the data we get from satellites, smart sensors, weather stations, and other information-gathering technology will be much easier to organize, allowing analysis of our world, its natural processes, and the cultures in it from an almost infinite amount of perspectives.

As our tech gets smarter and more connected (including the stuff we use at home), it makes sense that we’d want to refine and perfect the sorting process for all that data. One of IBM’s more recent macroscopic projects was in 2012, when they pooled irrigation, soil, weather data, and satellite images into a macroscopic system that improved Gallo Winery’s growing process, grape yield, and product quality.

AI-enhanced vision and superimaging
With the help of microcameras and AI, the human eye could be outfitted to see not just visible light, but microwave, millimeter wave, and infrared images. EnChroma sunglasses (which help colorblind people see colors) are one example of what this technology can do, and by 2022 it will be cheaper and more common.

With AI-assisted vision, people could see if food and pharmaceutical drugs are safe, and self-driving cars would use extensions of this technology to see through fog and rain. They could also use it to see “invisible” road hazards, such as black ice. Anyone who’s driven through Maryland during a salt shortage would appreciate that for sure.

Speech as a window to the mind
This could be a gamechanger, and possible disruptor, for mental health professionals and speech pathologists alike. IBM is using input from psychiatric interviews with machine learning techniques to find speech patterns consistent with early-stage developmental disorders, mental health issues, and even neurological diseases. Not only will it make these conditions easier to catch early on, they’ll be easier to monitor and treat, too.

Additionally, a team from the University of Southern California has already built a program that can idenfify depressive symptoms from human speech patterns.

Granted, a lot could happen in five years, including fluctuations in scientific funding. That said, IBM is researching every item on their predictions list, so if you’re tempted to write this whole thing off as pure conjecture, don’t just yet. After all, IBM has deep pockets.

RealClearLife Staff