IBM Research has launched its annual “5 in 5” list of technology predictions, saying that over the next five years, hyperimaging and artificial intelligence will give us, among other things, “superhero vision”.
They may not be the X-ray Specs advertised in the comic books of yore, but IBM promises that advances in technology will soon be delivering portable multi-spectrum imaging devices which will allow us to see bands of the electromagnetic spectrum outside the human range of vision.
“Our ability to ‘see’ beyond visible light will reveal new insights that help us understand the world around us,” says Alberto Valdes Garcia, research staff member at IBM Research. “This technology will be widely available throughout our daily lives, giving us the ability to perceive or see through objects and opaque environmental conditions anytime, anywhere.”
Technological advances over the past 100 years have already produced many ways of perceiving the world beyond human sight, including the likes of x-ray devices, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), microwave technology and sonar and radar. But what’s special about the upcoming tools is their ability to combine information from various detection sources into one picture, through hyperimaging. The technology will lean heavily on the vast computing power of artificial intelligence (AI) systems which are able to take disparate sets of information and “reason” about them so to create an intelligible data set (or in this case, an intelligible image) for human use.
“A view of the invisible or vaguely visible physical phenomena all around us could help make road and traffic conditions clearer for drivers and self-driving cars,” says Garcia. “For example, using millimeter wave imaging, a camera and other electromagnetic sensors, hyperimaging technology could help a car see through fog or rain, detect hazardous and hard-to-see road conditions such as black ice or tell us if there is some object up ahead, as well as its distance and size.
IBM Research’s other top trends also lean heavily on AI and the ability of systems to coordinate vast amounts of data. On the health technology front, diagnosing mental illness through speech and writing pattern recognition is said to become more widespread, along with the use of nanosensors to detect the biochemical markers of disease.
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Smart sensors will be finding their way in and around more of the world’s natural gas wells and pipelines, as the ability of technology to aid in the detection of environmental pollution will expand, all part of a movement towards providing what IBM Research is calling a macroscopic picture of what’s going on in the world.
“Macroscope technology will transform many industries while revealing new insights about some of the most fundamental problems we face, such as the availability of food, water and energy,” says IBM Research. “By aggregating, organizing and analyzing data on climate, soil conditions, water resources and their relationship to irrigation practices, for example, a new generation of farmers will have insights that help them determine the right crop choices, where to plant them and how to produce optimal yields while conserving precious water supplies.”
Big data crunching is already a main player in environmental fields such as meteorology, where last year IBM Canada scored a $430 million contract to deliver a new supercomputer to Environment Canada. As reported by CBC News, the new 40 petabyte computer will be used to collect data from various satellites, radar and detection instruments to produce more reliable weather forecasting.