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December 18, 2013

Crystal Ball: Looking at the Next Five Years

Isaac Lopez

It never fails – December is a time when the world at large takes time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. These reflections seem to get more and more profound each year as we introduce ourselves further into new technologies, and dream of their possibilities. In this spirit, IBM has released its take on the next five years, and it’s worth taking note of.

It should come as no surprise that IBM’s “cognitive” computer, Watson, plays a heavy role in their vision of the future. And why shouldn’t it? It’s put a lot of resources into getting the product to where it is today, and now virtually any organization has access to the natural language query system through the cloud – a phenomenal development in itself that has vast potential as a big data front end.

The future is more than just what Watson can do, as IBM sees it. The future is about the fusion of data and our daily lives in profound ways – some of them controversial. So without further ado, let’s look at the next five years as IBM envisions it.

START — Innovation #1 
The Classroom Will Learn You — >

Innovation #1 – The Classroom Will Learn You

Ask virtually anyone and they’ll tell you that modern education isn’t so modern. It’s largely outdated, using models and techniques that might have been appropriate for the days of the baby boomer generation, but is failing to meet the demands of the current environment.

IBM views a future in which learning is hyper-individualized – where cloud-based cognitive systems in classrooms will learn about each student and then provide coursework customized to how a student learns best. The systems would be able to provide class instructors data-driven insights about their charges, identifying at-risk students, and where each student is struggling, and how to best address these struggles.

IBM says it’s already begun this work in Georgia:

IBM is working with the state of Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 14th largest school district in the U.S., to use big data analytics and cognitive technologies for population analysis of longitudinal student records. By identifying similarities in how students learn and predicting performance and learning needs, specific content and teaching techniques can be aligned to each of the district’s 170,000 students to ensure the best learning experience.

Next — Innovation #2
Buying Local Will Beat Online — >

Innovation #2 – Buying Local Will Beat Online

If you’re like me, you might think, “You’ll get my Amazon Prime when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands.” I absolutely loathe the experience of shopping, especially during the busy seasons like we’re currently in. However, counter to what most people might think, IBM believes that the days of brick-and-mortar are set to make a comeback by merging the immediacy of physical shopping with the intelligence of online shopping.

The driver behind this change, says IBM, will be the smartphone in the palm of your hand (or the tech-enabled glasses on the ridge of your nose), as augmented reality, wearable computing, location-based technologies, and, ahem, cognitive computing, will give shoppers and experience that will make shopping much more personalized and productive.

And it’s already starting, says IBM:

Watson’s app development platform is already moving into this physical-virtual space. The startup, Fluid, has layered Watson on top of its Expert Personal Shopper app for retail brands. So by next year, Watson will be your personal shopping assistant. Store associates will also have similar intelligent tech providing them instant product information, customer loyalty data, sales histories, user reviews, blogs and magazines, so that when you do need to talk with another human, they know exactly how to help.

Next — Innovation #3
Doctors Will Routinely Use Your
DNA to Keep You Well — >

Innovation #3 – Doctors Will Routinely Use Your DNA to Keep You Well

One of the collective hopes for generations has been that science would find a cure for cancer, and rid humanity of this scourge which plagues the world, creating both human devastation as well as economic hardship. Unfortunately, there isn’t a silver bullet that can cure the vast arrays of potential cancers that a person can develop. Cancer is not a virus, but a vast array of cellular mutations that the body does not really know how to handle.

While there isn’t a single silver bullet to cure all cancer, what if there is one for each of the more than 200 different types of cancer that have been identified? What if a doctor could sequence an individual’s genome, as well as the DNA for the cancer itself, and then come up with a hyper-individualized strategy for eliminating it?

That future isn’t so far off, says IBM:

Once a doctor sequences your full genome as well as your cancer’s DNA, mapping that information to the right treatment is difficult. Today, these types of DNA-based plans, where available, can take weeks or even months. Cognitive systems will decrease these times, while increasing the availability by providing doctors with information they can use to quickly build a focused treatment plan in just days or even minutes – all via the cloud…Within five years, deep insights based on DNA sequencing will be accessible to more doctors and patients to help tackle cancer. By using cognitive systems that continuously learn about cancer and the patients who have cancer, the level of care will only improve. No more assumptions about cancer location or type, or any disease with a DNA link, like heart disease and stroke.

Next — Innovation #4
Digital Guardian Will Protect You Online — >

Innovation #4 – Digital Guardian Will Protect You Online

Identity theft is a problem that has become rampant in the digital age as criminals use their own toolkits of ill design to gain access to other people’s vital data for their own financial gains. IBM predicts that in the near future, it will get much harder for these criminals to get away with an individual’s identity goods.

It’s become a common experience today to receive a phone call from a credit card company informing a person that the company algorithms have detected anomalous activity with their credit card. Sometimes that anomalous activity is a legitimate purchase that they have made that is outside of their routine. Other times, however, it’s a bad guy acting maliciously. What if you didn’t have to rely on the credit card company’s imperfect and distant algorithms to protect your identity?

IBM says the day is coming when a cloud-based personal digital guardian will be able to monitor all of your devices, including your phone, car, computer and more to protect your identity:

Over the next five years, this guardian of big data will analyze and learn from your online behavior patterns, going back months and years to know what to protect. And when it detects a possible breach, you will be the first to know.

This cognitive system currently tracks several different security anomalies. It also incorporates security measure such as fingerprint and facial recognition. So, as it understands what you secure and how, it can even make decisions for you, per your instructions and permission. Not trying to buy a jetpack because you’re afraid of heights? Your digital guardian will know this, and won’t let this daredevil with your credit card buy it either.



Next — Innovation #5
The City Will Help You Live In It — >

Innovation #5 – The City Will Help You Live In It

If cognitive and mobile computing can improve the experience of brick-and-mortar shopping, what can it do for the experience of living in a city? IBM says that in the next five years, the experience of living in a city will get streamlined through the use of technologies such as sensors, crowdsourcing, mobile applications, and big data analytics.

This will mean a much more interactive environment, where city leaders are able to get real time data to address concerns, and citizens will be able to have much more direct access to the public and private services that are offered in their towns.

Per IBM:

By 2017, the number of smart phones in the world is expected to top three billion – this will allow people to have a digital key to the city right at their fingertips. Information will be delivered to their phone and about what is happening in the city, what experiences are relevant to them and how to get there. Mobile apps will become the new norm for reporting and tracking pot holes, broken street lights and inaccessible sidewalks. For example, IBM Researchers in Brazil are working on a crowdsourcing tool, Rota Acessivel, that allows users to report accessibility problems to help people with disabilities better navigate challenges in urban streets.

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