In the 5 in 5 report IBM’s top scientists report on what the world, supported by smart sensing and computing, will look like in five years. Last week, Fast Company previewed the report with the physicist who heads up the research team: Dr. Bernard Meyerson, IBM Fellow, and Vice President of Innovation.

In five years, cities will be sentient. More buses will automatically run when there are more people to fill them. And doctors will use your DNA to tailor medical advice and smart computing to diagnose and plan treatment for big diseases like cancer not in months, but in minutes.

In five years, physical retail stores will understand your preferences and use augmented reality to bring the web to where shoppers can physically touch it. Sophisticated analytics will allow the classroom (not just the teacher) to track your progress in real time and tailor course work. Digital guardians will protect your accounts and identity, proactively flagging fraudulent use, while maintaining the privacy of your personal information.

In five years, we will have analytical models that allow us to actually change the future and prevent the traffic jam that would have happened if 20 minutes from now if we hadn’t already rerouted lights to stop it.

Here are details about the ways these five predictions will define the future and impact us at a personal level:

The City Will Help You Live In It

More than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities–and that is increasing. “By 2030, the towns and cities of the developing world will make up 80% of urban humanity and by 2050, seven out of every 10 people will be a city dweller.”

With the rise in smart phone and sensing technologies, analytics and cloud computing, cities will be able to respond quickly, and even predict problems before they occur. The cities will soon be able adjust automatically. “This will give rise to new cities that can respond in real time, predict problems before they occur, and deliver up more tailored services to make city life better for everyone.”

The total number of smartphones in the world is expected to top 3 billion by 2017. Increasingly, cities will enable new ways to interact with citizens via their mobile phones. Mobile apps will become the tool for identifying broken street lights, tagging and reporting pot holes, and text messages will alert people in real time when a problem is fixed. When social sentiment reveals that new zoning plans are unpopular or that rush-hour traffic is costing the local economy, virtual town halls will incorporate citizen feedback to adjust plans.

This will also enable cities to adapt services and schedules based on feedback. “Think about transportation,” says Meyerson. “In the city, transportation right now is on a fixed schedule as opposed to need. What if you actually had the ability to detect ahead of time the motion of your citizens and adjust your flow of transport capability to match the immediate need? So that maybe a baseball game went two hours long, you realize that meanwhile you may have had 14 trains tied up at local stations waiting for all the folks coming out of the stadium who never show up.”

“Contrast that with looking at everybody’s cell phones and where they are, and anonymizing the data. But taking that anonymous result, you nonetheless know that, ‘Wait a minute, all of a sudden 35,000 people got out of their seats or are heading for the exits.’ You know it’s time to spool up the transport system.”

Cities and their leaders will make decisions based on infinite different types of information that will be visualized on fluid heat maps of city systems. Using advanced analytics, it will be possible to understand and continually digest new information freely provided by citizens. Cities can become more flexible, increasingly flatter, less encumbered by bureaucracy, and more open to sharing data and insight.

Doctors Will Use Your DNA To Keep You Well

In the next five years, genetic sequencing and cognitive computing will make personalized medicine available at a scale and speed that was never previously possible.

Despite tremendous advances in cancer research and treatment, every year nearly 13 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed and 8 million people die from various forms of the complex disease. With growing aging populations, global cancer rates are expected to jump by an astounding 75% by 2030. Cancer also represents about 20% of all health care costs, placing a heavy burden on governments, health systems, providers, and patients.

Initial diagnoses of diseases like this, today, are often inaccurate, and treatment is prescribed in a one-size-fits-all manner. “We have historically attacked cancer based on symptoms and the location of the disease. This can result in costly treatment that is ineffective and could even be harmful.”

Researchers believe that in the next five years, the integration of genetic sequencing with cloud-based cognitive systems will help doctors accurately diagnose cancer and create individualized treatment plans for millions of patients around the world.

Even better: the system will continually learn and get smarter, so the standard of care for patients with cancer–and any disease with a DNA link, like heart disease and stroke–will continue to climb.

“Health care is a tremendous opportunity,” says Meyerson. “You’ve already heard these sort of miraculous results people are getting in treatment of various bloodborne cancers–leukemia, lymphoma–where people are taking the genetic makeup of either the actual cells that are essentially problematic, the cancer cells, and/or your genetic makeup, and from that they can actually determine what the most effective treatments will be based on that genetic knowledge.”

“At the end of the day it all comes down to the ability to not only custom design a treatment, but to also look at a seemingly infinite number of treatments that have been performed on a specific disease and very quickly, through the use of analytics, determine which one of those is proven to be on average the most effective,” Meyerson explains. “Once you get the amount of information that’s out there correlated and take these unstructured doctors’ notes and other things like that and use them, it will be a real game changer.”

Buying Local Will Beat Online

Online stores currently have an advantage in their ability to learn from the choices we make on the Web. While brick-and-mortar retailers drive a significant majority of retail sales, online sales topped $1 trillion worldwide for the first time last year, according to eMarketer, and are growing faster.

Today, retailers are experimenting with new services that combine digital and physical experiences in the store. In five years, retailers will rely on cognitive technologies to make sales associates experts on every product they carry, so employees can build on the rapport of face-to-face interactions with more well-informed service. And as cognitive systems supported by cloud computing build on their understanding of what makes individuals tick, retailers will soon be able to anticipate with incredible accuracy the products you most want and need.

“When you walk into that retailer’s shop, everything you browse, it actually pops up on a screen on your device automatically and says, ‘Hey, I see from your GPS you’re in one of our stores and you are interested in these four items. Let me tell you the precise aisles and the precise shelves you can locate them on to go see if you like them or not.”

Local stores will know their clientele so well that they’ll optimize what they carry in their store. Given their proximity, stores will offer you a variety of fast pick-up or delivery options. Two-day shipping will feel like snail mail. Five years from today, the store will be the place where we go for personalized advice, expert counsel, and the opportunity to experience products in immersive and exciting new ways.

“There’s a whole infrastructure in retail that will be enabled by this, and it will be a very interesting sort of smart combination of what we think of today as intelligent selling over the Web and intelligent enablement in our bricks and mortar environment.”

You Will Have A Digital Guardian

More than 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2012. To date, more than $21 billion in losses has been reported in 2013. These alarming numbers call for changes in the way personal information is protected.

In the future, security will become an entity that will care about you as an individual. Each of us will be protected with our own digital guardian that will proactively monitor things you cannot monitor, and can protect and alert you on your interests.

“If you had this electronic persona and then your digital guardian sees behaviors that lie outside of what that norm for that persona would be, the guardian instantly jumps all over it, clamps down, stops it, and just pokes you politely and says, ‘Are you sure you want to be sending all your personal information to this remote Web site located halfway around the world and run by a bunch of guys we, frankly, know to be thieves? Hint, hint, hint.’”

All of this is possible via cognitive computing, where machines can learn our behaviors and improve our user experience–in this case, the security of our personal information.

In the next five years, security is going to become more agile and contextual, making the right decisions for you. By constantly analyzing past data and the stream of daily events, it will look for deviations that could be precursors to an attack and a stolen identity. No longer will a bank or institution solely decide which transactions look suspicious–your digital guardian acting as an intelligent agent across all your devices and IDs will help determine what’s legitimate and what’s not.

“Right now there is no such thing,” says Meyerson. “But it is actually already being developed and deployed at the commercial level.”

The Classroom Will Learn You

Educational insufficiency is a major global challenge. Estimates show that, on a global basis, nearly two out of every three adults have not achieved the equivalent of a high school education. This, in an era when a secondary education is often the bare minimum required for an individual to productively enter the workforce.

The ability to deliver “affordable education at scale” is another key driver across the world, India alone will require 6 million more teachers by 2020 to attain the world average of student teacher ratio. Though it is a huge issue and still early, the increased use of technology in teaching and learning, we are beginning to see the digital transformation of the education industry.

The growth of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is resulting in educational content becoming freely available to anyone with an Internet connection. Publishers are now focused on making content more engaging and adaptive in order to proliferate its use in classrooms, while tablets and other personal devices are making learning an anytime, anywhere activity. This creates a tremendous amount of big data about teaching, learning, content, interaction, and outcomes.

“What if you had the ability to have the materials available, but through pure electronics deliver them to the student and be able to monitor in real time what that student was doing well with and what they’re struggling with? The teacher could individualize the instruction because they’re essentially handed an understanding of that student on day one because the classroom itself has followed that student from entry in kindergarten.”

In five years, cloud-based smart content and cutting-edge analytics will unlock deep insights that will transform our approach to learning and help move the classroom from assembly-line models into a truly personalized environment that motivates and engages learners at all levels, from a kindergartener studying the alphabet to a university student exploring new majors.

“It’s not, in fact, that the teacher is somehow displaced; quite the opposite,” says Meyerson. “The teacher is empowered. The teacher has access to data and history they had no other way of getting, and as a consequence is way more effective.”

Five years from today, technology will help the education industry move away from arbitrarily measured and schedule-based classrooms, toward a system that helps students learn what they want at the pace they need. Predictions of likely graduating skill pools and hiring profiles will better link curricula with employers, narrowing the skills gap.

Where This Leads? You Can Predict–And Change–The Future

Connected within the university world, top levels of business, and all aspects of IBM research, Meyerson is the guy who gets to see everything. What upcoming innovation does he think is the most amazing?

“I think the thing that really is astounding is the potential for big data to change the world and for the better and in a way that we can’t even imagine. We never had a way to pull together enough data to do a real honest statistical set of predictions about critical issues.”

“You have a set of insights that you’re going to gain that were basically heretofore impossible. There’s just a massive explosion in understanding as opposed to data. That’s just astonishing to me.”

“You literally change the future. It’s not science fiction. We can do that. If we can do it in something like traffic flow, believe me, we’ll eventually be doing it in medicine, and we’ll be doing it in many aspects of life.”


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