IBM: Smart machines set to rule the world

IBM’s 8th annual “5 in 5” prediction survey sees rise of cognitive systems

IBM today took the wraps off of its eighth annual "IBM 5 in 5" appraisal of the key technologies that could change high-tech life in the coming five years.

Perhaps not surprisingly Big Blue this year says future tech developments will revolve around cognitive or smart learning systems that will learn, reason and involve human interaction like never before.

"Over time these computers will get smarter and more customized through interactions with data, devices and people, helping us take on what may have been seen as unsolvable problems by using all the information that surrounds us and bringing the right insight or suggestion to our fingertips right when it's most needed. A new era in computing will lead to breakthroughs that will amplify human abilities, assist us in making good choices, look out for us and help us navigate our world in powerful new ways," IBM stated.

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Interestingly Gartner earlier this year also predicted huge rise in the use and deployment of smart machines.  For example the consultancy predicted that by 2024, at least 10% of activities potentially injurious to human life will require mandatory use of a non-overidable smart system. Machines already decide our safety in a number of situations.  CIOs and IT leaders should help identify where and how the deployment of automated systems might improve product safety and/or enhance competitive attractiveness, Gartner stated.

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"IT professionals need to recognize that smart machines can create substantial competitive advantages, as well as entirely new businesses." Gartner said such smart machines will soon decide what happens to many jobs. There is a large and growing market for IBM Watson-derived smart advisors, Gartner stated and Google and Apple are  actively developing personal assistants.  Gartner also cited the fact that deep neural networks are evolving - and IBM has a library of 150 neuromorphic macros.   Gartner predicted in 2014 the number of speech recognition apps will double and that by 2015 the number of developers using IBM's library of smarter macros will quadruple

IBM's 5 in 5 survey seems to echo many of these trends.  Here's a look:

A smart system a day...: The classroom of the future will give educators the tools to learn about every student, providing them with a tailored curriculum from kindergarten to high school and on to employment. In the next five years the classroom will learn about each student using longitudinal data such as test scores, attendance and student's behavior on e-learning platforms, not just aptitude tests.  Sophisticated analytics delivered over the cloud will provide decision support to teachers so they can predict students who are most at risk, their roadblocks, and then suggest measures to help students conquer their challenges based on their individual learning style.

IBM said its scientists are already getting to work in the classroom. In a first-of-a-kind research project with Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 14th largest school district in the US, IBM will leverage big data analytics and learning technologies for population analysis of longitudinal student records. The project aims to identify similarities of learning, predict performance and learning needs, then align specific content and successful teaching techniques to improve outcomes for each of the district's 170,000 students and ultimately increase the district's graduation rate.

Buying local will beat online:  In five years, innovations will make buying local du jour once.  Savvy retailers will use the immediacy of the store and proximity to customers to create experiences that cannot be replicated by online-only retail.  They will magnify the digital experience by bringing the web right to where the shopper can physically touch it.  In five years, retailers could rely on Watson-like technologies to equip sales associates to be expert about every product in the store. With technologies such as augmented reality and the recently announced plan to open Watson as an app development platform, IBM said it is providing shoppers' with better in-store browsing and buying experiences.  

As mobile devices supported by cloud computing enable individuals to share what makes them tick, their health or nutritional needs, virtual closets and social networks, retailers will soon be able to anticipate with incredible accuracy the products a shopper most wants and needs. As a result, stores will transform into immersive destinations with experiences customized for each individual, IBM stated.

Smart medical systems that keep you healthy: In five years, advances in big data analytics and emerging cloud-based cognitive systems coupled with breakthroughs in genomic research and testing could help doctors to accurately diagnose cancer and create personalized cancer treatment plans for millions of patients around the world.  Smart machines will take the output of full genome sequencing and scour vast repositories of medical records and publications to learn and quickly provide specific and actionable insights on treatment options for oncologists, IBM said.

Cancer care, personalized right down to a genomic level, has been on the horizon since scientists first sequenced the human genome, but few clinicians have access to the tools and time to assess the insights available at this level. Within five years, cloud-based cognitive systems could make such personalized medicine available at a scale and speed never before possible. These systems are destined to get even smarter over time by learning about people, their genomic information and response to drugs - opening up the possibility to provide DNA-specific personalized treatment options for conditions such as stroke and heart disease.  Through the cloud, smarter healthcare could scale to reach more people in more locations, while also giving a global community of healthcare providers access to vital information. IBM stated. 

Your digital protector: In five years, everyone could be protected with our own digital guardian that will become trained to focus on the people and items it is entrusted with, offering a new level of identity theft protection. Security will assimilate contextual, situational and historical data to verify a person's identity on different devices. By learning about users, a digital guardian can make inferences about what's normal or reasonable activity and what's not, acting as an advisor when they want it to. In the future, security is going to become more agile and contextual with a 360 degree of data, devices and applications, ready to spot deviations that could be precursors to an attack and a stolen identity, IBM stated.

The city you live in: In five years smarter cities understand in real time how billions of events occur as computers learn to understand what people need, what they like, what they do, and how they move from place to place.  Soon it will be possible for cities and their leaders to understand and digest new information freely provided by citizens, knowing which city resources are needed, where and when, so the city can dynamically optimize around the needs of the citizens. 

In the past, IBM's 5 in 5 survey has predicted a number of other interesting trends.  For example:

Last year IBM said within the next five years, computers will not only be able to look at images, but help us understand the 500 billion photos we're taking every year (that's about 78 photos for each person on the planet). In the future, "brain-like" capabilities will let computers analyze features such as color, texture patterns or edge information and extract insights from visual media.

IBM predicted that by 2017 or so a distributed system of what it calls "clever sensors" will detect elements of sound such as sound pressure, vibrations and sound waves at different frequencies. The system will interpret these inputs to predict when trees will fall in a forest or when a landslide is imminent. Such a system will "listen" to our surroundings and measure movements, or the stress in a material, to warn of danger, IBM says.

Big Blue also predicted in 2012 that during the next five years, tiny sensors embedded in your computer or cell phone will detect if you're coming down with a cold or other illness. By analyzing odors, biomarkers and thousands of molecules in someone's breath, doctors will have help diagnosing and monitoring the onset of ailments such as liver and kidney disorders, asthma, diabetes and epilepsy by detecting which odors are normal and which are not. Due to advances in sensor and communication technologies in combination with deep learning systems, sensors can measure data in places never thought possible. For example, computer systems can be used in agriculture to "smell" or analyze the soil condition of crops.

From its 2011 survey, IBM said will never need a password again because of what IBM calls "multi-factor biometrics." Smart systems will be able to use retina scans and other personal information in real-time to make sure whenever someone is attempting to access your information, it matches your unique biometric profile. To be trusted, such systems should enable you to opt in or out of whatever information you choose to provide. Your biological makeup is the key to your individual identity, and soon, it will become the key to safeguarding it. You will no longer need to create, track or remember multiple passwords for various log-ins. Imagine you will be able to walk up to an ATM machine to securely withdraw money by simply speaking your name or looking into a tiny sensor that can recognize the unique patterns in the retina of your eye, IBM said.

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