The brainiacs at IBM made some pretty far out predictions this week: In five years, they say, you won’t need passwords, there will be no more digital divide, and mind reading will no longer be science fiction.
Forgive us if we take issue with the last one. Five years ago, in a similar list of predictions, IBM said that by the dawn of 2012, “mobile phones will start to read our minds.”
IBM has been doing these predictions for decades. Back in the 80s, they looked ten years out, calling their prognostications “Ten Year Outlooks.” But nowadays, things move at Internet speed, so in 2006, IBM started publishing “Five in Five” lists of the five innovations their researchers believe will change the world in the next five years. They’re fun, and they give the company some concrete goals. “These are things you can actually hold our feet to the fire over, to be honest,” says Bernie Meyerson, an IBM fellow and vice president of innovation.
Wired asked Meyerson, the guy who helped put IBM’s Power chips in nearly every gaming console out there, what he thought of his company’s January 2007 predictions. The following are IBM’s five predictions of what the world would be like in 2012 — along with Meyerson’s comments — and a ranking of the prediction on a scale of one to five stars.
1) We will be able to access healthcare remotely, from just about anywhere in the world.
Meyerson’s score: Five stars
“The healthcare one we nailed. It’s astounding. There’s an entire factory near Mayo clinic where people fly biological samples in every day and essentially just make use of the fact that the globe is flat to be able to transport precious samples for diagnostics.
“Apart from that you also now have people who do remote robo-surgery. It’s not just telemedicine, but literally you could have a remotely accessed robot where the surgery could be performed by a remote location… this is something that simply came to pass.”
Wired’s score: Three and a half stars
IBM did call it right when it came to remote medical treatment. But if you read their predictions, they also talk about disease monitoring and “virtual doctor check-ups” at home. Remote disease monitoring is starting to happen, but how many of you have had a virtual checkup?
2) Real-Time speech translation — once a vision only in science fiction — will become the norm.
Meyerson’s score: Three stars
“Real time speech translation has arrived, but it’s limited deployment. I would give that a three only because [while] the underlying science and technology showed up — it is possible, we’ve done it and demoed it — it’s simply not pervasive.”
Wired’s Score: Two stars
It may be possible, but it’s not the norm. If you want to see a Universal Translator in action, you’d best to tune into Star Trek.