IBM predicts talking web, memory-enhancement

Five forecasts of future technology are made

A talking internet, solar technology embedded in windows and cellphones, and the end of forgetting will all come in the next five years, IBM predicts in this year's Next Five in Five list. The list, which IBM has released for the past three years, details innovations that could change users' lives in the next half-decade. The predictions are based on emerging technologies being developed at IBM, plus analysis of market and societal trends, IBM says.

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

Here's a closer look at the predictions.

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, cell 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 (NZ$365), 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 such as 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 users will surf the internet using just their voice, a development that will make the web more widely accessible worldwide, particularly for those who cannot read or write.

"In places like India, 'talking' to the web is leapfrogging all other interfaces, and the mobile phone is outpacing the PC," IBM says. "Imagine being within a phone call's reach from the ability to post, scan and respond to emails and instant messages — without typing. You will be able to sort through the web verbally to find what you are looking for and have the information read back to you — as if you are having a conversation with the web."

4. Digital technology will enhance your in-store shopping experience, with "digital shopping assistants" inside fitting rooms, touchscreen and voice-activated kiosks that will help you choose clothing items to complement or replace what you've already chosen. Store employees will be automatically notified and bring you the items you've requested. With rapidly improving mobile technology, shoppers will also read product ratings from other consumers, download coupons and take photos of themselves to send to friends and family and instantly get their opinions.

5. "Forgetting will become a distant memory," IBM says in its final prediction. Remembering all the little things you forget will become easier because everyday details will be recorded, analysed and "provided at the appropriate time and place by both portable and stationary smart appliances". IBM predicts that microphones and video cameras will record everyday activities and conversations, whether those conversations happen with family members or doctors. GPS-enabled smartphones can then remind us, for example, to pick up groceries or prescriptions if we pass by the supermarket or pharmacy.

IBM makes no mention of laws that in some jurisdictions forbidding recording of conversations without the consent of all parties, so we'll have to see how the legality of this one plays out.

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