Talking Web, memory assistants and solar-powered cell phones headed mainstream, IBM says

IBM's 'Next Five in Five' predicts innovations that will change our lives

A talking Web, solar technology embedded in windows and cell phones, and the end of forgetting will all come in the next five years, IBM predicts in its third annual Next Five in Five list.

A talking Web, solar technology embedded in windows and cell phones, and the end of forgetting will all come in the next five years, IBM predicts in its third annual Next Five in Five list, detailing innovations that could change our lives in the next half-decade.

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

"The Next Five in Five is based on market and societal trends expected to transform our lives, as well as emerging technologies from IBM's Labs around the world that can make these innovations possible," IBM says.  (See last year's list here.) 

Here's a look at IBM's five predictions announced this week:

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 $200, 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 like French fries and 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 you will surf the Internet using just your voice, a development that will make the Web more widely accessible worldwide, particularly for those who cannot read or write.

"In places like India, where the spoken word is more prominent than the written word in education, government and culture, '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 e-mails 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, analyzed 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 states forbid 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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