IBM Offers Sneak Preview of ITs Coming Attractions

IBM Labs is working on numerous new products in areas that could one day change users' lives, such as remote health care monitoring and nanotechnology.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Mobile phones that can predict your requests? A 3-D Internet? Health care from a doctor half a world away? These things might become everyday occurrences sooner than you might imagine.

At a recent open house in San Jose, Calif., IBM Labs showed a group of journalists and analysts some of the technologies in which it has invested $100 million, as well as several key projects the IT giant is currently developing in labs located around the world.

IBM has hundreds of projects in the pipeline, but it winnowed them down to a list of five innovations that it said it believes will change peoples lives over the next five years.

Mobile phones that learn to please their owners: Advanced "presence" technology will give mobile phones and PDAs the ability to learn about their users whereabouts and preferences as they commute, work and travel. Presence technology, already being used in instant messaging, makes it possible to locate and identify a user as soon as he or she connects to the network.

By 2012, IBM says, a number of mobile devices will have the ability to learn about their owners and adapt to their preferences and needs. For example, a phone will "know" when the owner is in a class or a meeting and revert automatically to voice mail, for example. A favorite pizza restaurant will know when youre on your way home and ping you with a specially priced take-home meal that was custom-cooked for you.

Remote health care: Millions of people with chronic health problems such as diabetes or heart, kidney or circulatory issues will be able to have their conditions automatically monitored as they go about their daily lives. Device makers and health care professionals will take an active approach to remote monitoring of patients via sensors worn on the person or in devices and packaging. These advances will allow patients to better monitor their own health and help clinicians provide preventative care, regardless of the persons location.

Real-time speech translation: IBM already has software that enables media companies to monitor Chinese and Arabic newscasts broadcast over the Web in English, lets travelers use PDAs to translate Japanese menus into English, and helps doctors to communicate with their patients in Spanish. Real-time translation technologies will be embedded in mobile phones, handheld devices and cars. These services will pervade every part of business and society, eliminating the language barrier in the global economy and in social interaction, the company said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about IBMs AlphaWorks Services, a way to give businesses access to emerging technologies being developed at IBM Labs.

The 3-D Internet: Popular "immersive" online sites, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, will evolve into a three-dimensional Internet, much as the early work by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), AOL and Prodigy Communications evolved into the World Wide Web. In this immersive online world, users will "walk" supermarket aisles, bookstores and DVD shops, where they will be able to consult with experts rarely found in neighborhood stores.

New technologies helping to improve the environment: Nanotechnology, the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules to form tiny new structures, will make devices such as PCs and mobile phones smaller, more efficient and cheaper. Nanotechnology will be also be used to filter sea water and improve solar power systems, for example.

"Overall, IBM makes a compelling argument for the life-changing technologies, but much of their resonance is that the five reflect emerging IT trends and user behaviors (and therefore commercial opportunities for IBM)," Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told eWEEK.

Remote health care and 3-D Internet are two areas for which growth is largely supported by the increasing preponderance of high-bandwidth Internet access, King said.

"Its easy enough to imagine how remote health care access could change the lives of people living in rural areas, where it is often difficult to access even basic health care," King said. "Consider also how wireless versions of that technology might affect the lives of soldiers injured in the field or victims of natural disasters in remote areas."

Mobile phones that adapt to their users and real-time speech translation are just a matter of time, King said, since they rely on increasingly powerful microprocessors that he fully expects to reach the market in the next half decade.

The same goes for IT environmental issues, where the complexity of management stands in the way of truly effective solutions, he added.

"When vendors finally integrate management features at the chip level, the resulting eco-friendly systems will make todays green solutions look parched in comparison," King said.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...