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IBM’s 2013 “5 in 5”: This year’s theme: everything will learn — driven by a new era of cognitive systems where machines will learn, reason and engage with us in a more natural and personalized way

December 17th, 2013 |  Published in IBM


IBM 5 in 5



17 December 2013 – Every year … since 2006 … IBM has issued its “5 in 5”, five annual predictions of what IBM says will appear in our technology ecosystem within the next five years.  Last year’s theme was cognitive computing , and Virginia Rometty (IBM’s chief executive and chairman and keynote speaker at MWC this year) said the most important element of her tenure at IBM would be cognitive computing. It has been one hell of a year for Watson plus a series of brilliant “Cognitive Systems Colloquiums” in Monoco, New York, Paris,  and Tel Aviv.

I am always skeptical about technology predictions (I’m still waiting for the jet packs we were promised decades ago) but IBM’s list provides a good starting point to track tech progress and priorities. And it has been a fun way to grade its prognostication skills.

Yes, there have been hits and misses.  For example, in 2011 IBM said junk mail will get so targeted it will actually cease to be junk at all. If that’s happening, I’m not seeing it. Ditto their predictions about mind-reading headsets that measure our brain activity and recognize our facial expressions. Although we are inching closer if you have been reading those MIT Technology reports.

But if you take a longer view … look at IBM’s inaugural list in 2006 … it does better. It was right on the money with its call that people would be able to access healthcare remotely and that Big Data and analytics would make tectonic changes in the health industry.  It was a much discussed topic at a past FutureMed.

And IBM had also then predicted real-time speech translation now exemplified by products like Samsung’s Galaxy speech translation.

This year, IBM researchers are exploring the idea that everything will learn – driven by a new era of cognitive systems where machines will learn, reason and engage with us in a more natural and personalized way. These innovations are beginning to emerge enabled by cloud computing, big data analytics and learning technologies all coming together.

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.

This year, it is all about you. As Steve Hamm of IBM Cognitive Systems put it: “Imagine this: 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. Up until now, only a select few of the world’s leading businesses and government agencies have had the ability to marshal vast financial and computing resources to solve almost any highly complex problem.

But in the coming years, this type of power will become available to individuals, as well– through the assistance of computers that learn and help us make the most important decisions affecting our lives. This vision is not science fiction. Because of today’s advances in computing, we’ll hold learning machines in our hands in the foreseeable future. And because of the nature of these machines, they’ll keep getting better at what they do. They’ll learn not just about us as individuals but about the collective us. Over time, they’ll get better at serving the needs of society as a whole.

So onto this year’s predictions (click on the bolded title to read more):

The classroom will learn you – The classroom of the future will learn about each student over the course of their education, helping students master the skills critical to meeting their goals.

Buying local will beat online – Savvy retailers will tap cognitive technologies and use the immediacy of the physical store to create experiences that cannot be replicated by online-only retail.

Doctors will routinely use your DNA to keep you well –Computers will help doctors understand how specific mutations in a patient’s DNA have lead to growth of a cancerous tumor. They’ll recommend a cocktail of medicine shown to best attack that cancer.

The city will help you live in it  Cognitive systems will learn to understand what people need, what they like, what they do, and how they move from place to place—so the managers of the city can respond better to their needs. This was a major theme at Mobile World Congress last year where the sponsors built a “smart city” to demonstrate how this all ties in. In 2014 at MWC an even more sophisticated model is being built.

A digital guardian will protect you online Security systems will acquire a 360-degree view of an individual’s data, devices and applications. They’ll readily spot patterns that could be precursors to a cyber attack or a stolen identity.


Underlying this new era of computing — which IBM calls the era of cognitive systems — are a handful of essential technologies. They include learning systems and big data analytics. Here are primers by two IBM Research scientists explaining the technology concepts and urging today’s students to help invent the new era:

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"The mind that lies fallow but a single day sprouts up follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture."
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