IBM THINK - The 5 Innovations That Will Change Our Lives
At the recent IBM THINK conference, the company revealed its latest “5 In 5”, the five innovations that will change our lives within five years. Though they are unique innovations, they seem to share a common theme. Though our world is moving rapidly into digital, technological and mobile ubiquity, technology is built by and for humans. In order for a technological breakthrough to truly change our world for the better, it must be created and maintained in the service of solving human problems. Security, bias, and technology’s unintended consequences are all seriously issues to our world, and thus key components of every new innovation that we create.
Here’s IBM’s 5 In 5:
Crypto-anchors and blockchain will unite against counterfeiters
Fraud costs the global economy a staggering $600 billion a year. Nobody wants to spend their hard-earned money on a fake product, and no company wants bogus editions of their products to be out in the marketplace and purchased by consumers at full price. But global supply chains are incredibly complicated; often times materials and products are passing through multiple countries on their journey. Unfortunately, the reality of complex supply chains introduces ample opportunities for counterfeits to make their way in. And its not just a financial problem. In some countries, near 70% of medications are fakes. Fraud happens, but hopefully not for much longer. Blockchain technology is emerging as the digital world’s primary safeguard against fraudulent transactions. Blockchain brings trust, efficiency and transparency into any supply chain environment—three vital things that are of increasing import in today’s data-sharing world. Lest you think that this is only an issue for consumer product makers, a recent report from e-Marketer says that Blockchain is poised to revolutionize how brands optimize their digital ad spend, an industry that itself saw nearly $19 billion in fraud worldwide last year. The transparency afforded by Blockchain may finally bring an end to the days where brands are wondering exactly where their ad dollars have gone.
However, there are additional measures that are being developed that will increase security in tandem with Blockchain, particularly when it comes to the authenticity of goods. Enter crypto-anchors; tamper-proof digital fingerprints that are placed on actual physical products, allowing for fast authentication of an item’s origin and contents. They can take many forms including edible ink or tiny, grain-of-sand-size mini computers that can be embedded in objects.
New security methods based on lattice cryptography will emerge
Ensuring the authenticity of physical objects and the security of supply chains may be important, but we’re on the cusp of the all-digital, IoT world. With smart cities, self-driving cars and AI/robotics on the horizon, the security of our data is vital. The hackers of today can steal and disseminate sensitive information; the hackers of the very-near future can cause mass harm—in an all-digital, IoT world, cyber attacks are physical ones. Our current security measures likely won’t cut it against the world’s best hackers. The potential answer may lie in math. IBM Researcher Cecilia Boschini unveiled at THINK the concept of lattice-based cryptography. Essentially, lattices rely on creating incredibly difficult math problems to hide sensitive data—problems that will stump future quantum computing power that will inevitably end up in the hands of nefarious actors. Staying one step ahead of the hacker is crucial, but extremely difficult. The next best thing is an impenetrable last line of defense, and lattice cryptography is poised to be just that.
AI-powered robot microscopes may save our oceans
You may not care much about plankton–and we’re not talking about the character on Spongebob Squarepants. However, plankton is one of the most important lifeforms on earth. Not only are they the base of the oceanic food chain, they’re also among the most important subjects scientists can study when looking into the quality and viability of water in our oceans, rivers and lakes. Because of their sensitivity to changes in water, plankton are a vital prism that must be studied closely. But they’re difficult to properly study–their natural environment is so vast and near impossible to recreate in a lab, and human beings are limited in how much of the ocean they can scour and study at one time.
Sometimes we associate Artificial Intelligence with sci-fi like robots and cyborgs, but many of its coming real-life applications are much more valuable and altruistic. A few years ago, someone might have dreamed up dropping autonomous microscopes into a body of water which could view organisms up-close in their natural habitat, sending images and data back to scientists in a dry, warm lab somewhere far away. It might sound too good to be true, but within five years’ time that’s exactly what will be happening. These tiny wonders are being developed now with the hopes of being able to better track and predict the effects changes in our environment have on our bodies of water—the most important natural resource we have.
AI bias will explode, but only the unbiased AI will survive
AI might not be human, but it’s powered by algorithms, and algorithms are written by humans. Those algorithms are meant to influence user behavior. But humans are imperfect beings. We are finicky, emotional, prone to mistakes. And perhaps most of all, and as much as we may try not to be, we’re biased.
“An algorithm has to be tuned to something. It’s doing a series of steps and someone decided what those steps were,” says author Sarah Wachter-Boettcher. That’s how you get sexist dating apps or Snapchat creating a yellowface filter. From an AI sense, developments like natural language processing are particularly susceptible to bias, and a mishap that might seem innocuous to one person can have incredibly damaging and offensive to another. IBM hopes to eliminate bias from its data systems by creating a rating system that ranks the relative fairness of any AI system. AI will dominate the foreseeable future, but it’s the AI platforms built free of bias which will endure.
In 5 years, quantum computing will be mainstream
All of the above technologies are possible with improvements to the current computing power we already have. But quantum computing represents an entirely new lever of power, and thus, an entirely new sense of what’s possible. Current, conventional computing works on bits, while the future will be built on qubits. IBM’s VP of Q Strategy and Ecosystem at IBM research explains the difference:
“Ultimately when you measure a qubit it’s zero or one, but before that there’s a realm of freedom of what that can actually be. It’s not zero and one at the same time or anything like this, it just takes on values from a much, much larger mathematical space. The basic logic gates [AND, OR, NOT, NOR, etc], those gates are different for quantum,” he continued. “The way the different qubits work together to get to a solution is completely different from the way the bits within your general memory works.”
Quantum computers are essentially able to solve multiple things at once instead of taking them in order. They are essentially the world’s best multitaskers, on steroids, and their entrance into the world will change things immeasurably. Everything from chemistry to medicine to education to sports may be forever changed, and hopefully, improved.