Our mission at IBM is to help our clients change the way the world works. There’s no better example of that than IBM Research’s annual “5 in 5” technology predictions. 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. 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.
Later today, we’ll introduce the scientists behind this year’s 5 in 5 at a Science Slam held at the site of IBM’s biggest client event of the year: Think 2018 in Las Vegas. Watch it live or catch the replay here. Science Slams give our researchers the opportunity to convey the importance of their work to a general audience in a very short span of time — approximately five minutes. We’ve found this to be an extremely useful exercise that makes our innovation more accessible by distilling it down to its core essentials.
Here’s a summary of the predictions IBM scientists will present this year. Collectively, they portend a powerful evolution in computing that will exceed anything we’ve previously seen:
Within the next five years, cryptographic anchors — such as ink dots or tiny computers smaller than a grain of salt — will be embedded in 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. 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.
IBM is developing encryption methods to keep pace with emerging technologies such as quantum computers, which will someday be able to break all current encryption protocols. IBM researchers have already developed a post-quantum encryption method, which we’ve voluntarily submitted to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), called lattice cryptography. No computer can crack it, not even future quantum computers. With lattice cryptography we can work on a file, or encrypt it, without ever exposing sensitive data to hackers.
In five years, small, autonomous AI microscopes, networked in the cloud and deployed around the world, will continually monitor in real time the health of one of Earth’s most important and threatened resources: water. IBM scientists are working on an approach that uses plankton, which are natural, biological sensors of aquatic health. AI microscopes can be placed in bodies of water to track plankton movement in 3D, in their natural environment, and use this information to predict their behavior and health. This could help in situations like oil spills and runoff from land-based pollution sources, and to predict threats such as red tides.
Within five years, we will have new solutions to counter a substantial increase in the number of biased AI systems and algorithms. As we work to develop AI systems we can trust, it’s critical to develop and train these systems with data that is fair, interpretable and free of racial, gender, or ideological biases. With this goal in mind, IBM researchers developed a method to reduce the bias that may be present in a training dataset, such that any AI algorithm that later learns from that dataset will perpetuate as little inequity as possible. IBM scientists also devised a way to test AI systems even when the training data is not available.
In five years, quantum computing will be used extensively by new categories of professionals and developers to solve problems once considered unsolvable. Quantum will be ubiquitous in university classrooms, and will even be available, to some degree, at the high school level. IBM Researchers are already achieving major quantum chemistry milestones. They successfully simulated atomic bonding in beryllium hydride (BeH2), the most complex molecule ever simulated by a quantum computer. In the future, quantum computers will continue to address problems with ever increasing complexity, eventually catching up to and surpassing what we can do with classical machines alone.
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. Society’s ability to overcome intractable challenges and unprecedented threats depends on steady advancements in technologies like AI, blockchain, lattice cryptography and quantum computing – all of which IBM Research has invested in heavily. We have our scientists to thank for making this essential progress possible – and for giving us powerful systems we can trust that enable us to look with renewed hope to the future.