Will Computers Be Able To Read Your Mind in Five Years? IBM Thinks So.

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 19 2011 3:28 PM

Will Computers Be Able To Read Your Mind in Five Years? IBM Thinks So.

Michael Tangermann operates a pinball machine via electrodes attached to his head.

Photo by THEO HEIMANN/AFP/Getty Images

Each year since 2006, IBM has placed public bets on how technology will change in the coming half-decade. On the IBM blog A Smarter Planet, Steve Hamm lays out five predictions for the next five years. If IBM gets its way, here’s what the future holds for us:

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

1.     “People power”: using daily activity to power lights, gadgets, and other energy-hungry technologies.
2.     Ditching passwords in favor of biometrics.
3.     Mind reading in the real world.
4.     The end of the “digital divide” between those plugged in and those not.
5.     Spam you actually want to receive—i.e., advertisements customized for you.


In an accompanying video summarizing the predictions, a voice-over says disapprovingly, “Look at all our wasted brain power and wasted time trying to remember multiple passwords for various logins.” The number of discrete passwords required for bank accounts, email accounts, and other services can be galling, but the phrasing makes it sound a little like the setup for an as-seen-on-TV product, in which simple tasks like draining pasta suddenly become insurmountable challenges.

Watch the five-minute video about IBM’s predictions.

Hamm claims in his post that IBM hasn’t been too far off the mark in its past soothsaying attempts. But the listed success stories seem rather vague. For instance, on the 2006 prediction that “We will be able to access healthcare remotely from just about anywhere in the world," Hamm writes:

Today, through telemedicine, patients can connect with physicians or specialists from just about anywhere via inexpensive computers and broadband networks. Doctors can view x-rays and other diagnostic imagery from thousands of miles away.

Technically, this is true, but telemedcine is still very much in its infancy. It’s a prime example of the famous William Gibson quote: “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” IBM should probably wait until the future is more evenly distributed to declare victory.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.



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