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New IBM report predicts 5 technologies that will change the world in the next 5 years

Published Mar 19th, 2018 10:36AM EDT
IBM Predictions 2018
Image: Marijan Murat/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

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At IBM’s inaugural THINK conference which kicks off today in Las Vegas, the company will be announcing what it describes as the world’s smallest computer.

It’s an IBM-designed product that’s smaller than a grain of salt, will cost less than 10 cents to manufacture and can monitor, analyze, communicate and act on data. It also packs several hundred thousand transistors into a tiny footprint to act as a crypto anchor technology.

That product, meanwhile, also ties into something else the computing giant is releasing today — its list of predictions covering five technologies that IBM researchers believe will literally transform the world over the next five years.

That tiny computer is connected to a cypto anchor prediction that’s included as part of the list. IBM is predicting that between now and 2023, for example, cryptographic anchors like the company’s computer it’s unveiling today will be embedded into everyday objects and devices. “They’ll be used in tandem with blockchain’s distributed ledger technology to ensure an object’s authenticity from its point of origin to when it reaches the hands of the customer,” the company says as part of the “5 in 5” predictions list. “These technologies pave the way for new solutions that tackle food safety, authenticity of manufactured components, genetically modified products, identification of counterfeit objects and provenance of luxury goods.”

Here’s a look at the other four predictions on IBM’s list:

AI-powered robot microscopes — networked in the cloud and deployed worldwide — will be robust enough to monitor in real time the health of water sources like oceans around the globe.

Though artificial intelligence systems are only as good as the data they’re trained on, we’ll see an explosion in “biased” AI.

Quantum computing is going mainstream. In five years’ time, it will be a critical piece, for example, of a computer engineering degree. It will move beyond the research lab and new categories of professionals, developers and students will emerge.

So-called lattice cryptography will be used to fight cyberattackers. That cryptography method, according to IBM, is built on an underlying architecture “that hides data inside complex algebraic structures called lattices.”

“Each year, we showcase some of the biggest breakthroughs coming out of IBM Research’s global labs – five technologies that we believe will fundamentally reshape business and society in the next five years,” Arvind Krishna, director of IBM Research, writes in a blog post giving some background to this year’s predictions. “This innovation is informed by research taking place at IBM Labs, leading edge work taking place with our clients, and trends we see in the tech/business landscape.”

In an interview with BGR, Jeff Welser — vice president and lab director for IBM Research – Almaden — focused on the prediction that cites the rise of AI-powered robots monitoring the health of water sources as an example of the “5 in 5” list’s utility.

“We chose to highlight the fact you can put these things in oceans and rivers and watch in real time the bacteria start swimming around,” he said. “And you can use that to figure out if they’re healthy or is there some problem with pollution or some looming issue with the water supply. It was highlighting how different types of technologies are coming together, particularly with AI, to solve unexpected problems.

“In that case, it was a group we have working on AI for imaging in general, when you’re trying to look at structures inside cells. And another group working on how they could better monitor water supplies using sensors. And another group figuring out you can use really cheap imagers and get images of things moving in real time without having to refocus all the time.”

You put it all together, Welser continued, and the result is something you didn’t realize you could do before. It’s the unexpected convergence of different technologies that presents a solution to something you didn’t set out to solve — in this case, using AI-powered robots to constantly monitor the health of oceans.

IBM says its researchers are building small, autonomous microscopes that can be placed in bodies of water to monitor plankton, identify different species and track their movement in three dimensions. The findings could potentially be used to predict threats to the water supply.

Those microscopes don’t have a lens and they rely on an imager chip like the one in any cell phone to capture the shadow of the plankton as it swims over the chip.

According to Krishna, “This year’s 5 in 5 is far more than a showcase of groundbreaking innovation. It is a reaffirmation of technology’s role as a force for good in a world that desperately needs it.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.