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

Future Tense
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.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.