IBM have a reputation for being a forward-thinking company. You might expect that of the corporation who, in 1911, thought there might be a future in the new-fangled technology of computing, tabulating and recording data.
Since then, the company has made sure to put itself at the forefront of technological advancement, spending a full 6 per cent of its revenue ($6.3 billion) in research and development. As part of this drive, IBM releases a hotly-anticipated "5 in 5" report at the end of each year: the 5 big predictions we can expect to see over the next 5 years.
This year's predictions are based around the idea that in the future, computers will learn.
"Imagine this," IBM invites its readers. "Your computer, the one you carry around in your pocket or purse, knows everything about you. With your permission, it knows about your relationships with the people, places and things in your world. It talks and listens to you. And, as your computer interacts with you and with the vast store of data about you, it learns to be an even better assistant—helping you navigate your personal and professional lives."
Exciting or scary? Real or imaginary? Let's run through what they've come up with this year and find out.
1. The classroom will learn you
"Since the days of the one room schoolhouse, both K-12 and higher education classrooms have been focused on a one-to-many interaction between a teacher and a group of students," IBM argues. "But IBM and its education partners think the classroom of the future will shift from a one-size-fits-all model to a truly personalized environment."
The rapid digitisation of the education industry and the emergence of "cognitive systems" is already happening in parallel, according to the computing giant. "Over the next five years, the two concepts will link."
Personalised classrooms are the future, according to IBM, and new implementation of learning technology will "motivate and engage learners at all levels: from a kindergartener studying the alphabet to a physics PhD candidate studying the finer points of String Theory."
2. Buying local will beat online
We've all heard about the dangers to brick-and-mortar stores by the online world, and how "showrooming" (browsing in a store and then buying a product online) has become an increasing headache for retailers. But it's not all gloom and doom, according to IBM.
"Being local will become increasingly important, as shoppers demand the instant gratification of their purchases," IBM predicts. "Two day shipping will feel like snail mail when a local store can offer customers a variety of fast pick-up or delivery options, wherever they are."
3. Doctors will routinely use your DNA to keep you well
"Already, full DNA sequencing is helping some patients fight cancer," IBM says. "But today, Big Data can get in the way of these breakthroughs for patients because doctors must correlate data from full genome sequencing with reams of medical journals, studies and clinical records at a time when medical information is doubling every five years. This process is expensive and time-consuming, and available to too few patients."
But the power of machines like IBM's Watson, couple with the versatility of the cloud, will soon be having a very real effect in saving lives, according to the report.
"Cognitive systems will decrease these times, while increasing the availability by providing doctors with information they can use to quickly build a focused treatment plan in just days or even minutes – all via the cloud."
4. A digital guardian will protect you online
Worried about security online? You won't have to be for long, according to IBM, all our activity online will be monitored and safeguarded by our very own "digital guardian."
"Over the next five years, this guardian of big data will analyze and learn from your online behavior patterns, going back months and years to know what to protect. And when it detects a possible breach, you will be the first to know," according to IBM.
"Imagine two purchases: $40 at a gas station, and $4,000 at Tiffany & Co. Today's fraud monitoring might see the diamond purchase as highly suspicious, and ignore the charge at the pump. But your digital guardian will know that your car has a near-full tank of fuel; that you don't usually re-fuel until you're down to about one quarter tank; not to mention that you're at the office when this charge appears. It will also know that you've been shopping for an engagement ring and have been spending your lunch hour window shopping outside the store."
That's definitely slightly more on the scary side.
5. The city will help you live in it
It's not just our cars and devices that will get smarter. The urban environment around us will also experience an upgrade, as machine learning and cognitive computing are brought to bear on the problem of smart cities.
"For citizens, smart phones enabled by cognitive systems will provide a digital key to the city," according to IBM. "People can have fingertip access to information about everything that's happening in the city, whether an experience is right for them, and how best to get there."
And that's not all.
"Because the cognitive system has interacted with citizens continuously, it knows what they like—and can present them with options they might not find easily."
Image: IBM; Flickr (ISO__100)