Trends & Predictions 2017: IBM’s 5 in 5 (Artificial Intelligence Helping make the Invisible Visible)

When it comes to interesting predictions, IBM’s 5 in 5: Five innovations that will help change our lives within five years, is usually among the best. This year’s predictions involve artificial intelligence (AI), hyperimaging, macroscopes, medical labs on a chip, and smart sensors. Obviously, some of these innovations are not new. What’s interesting is how IBM analysts believe these technologies will change our lives in the near term. They categorize this year’s offerings as “The Invisible made Visible.” They observe that Galileo made life-changing discoveries after he invented the telescope, which made much of the invisible cosmos visible for the first time. This year’s 5 in 5 list involves “new scientific instruments — whether physical devices or advanced software tools — designed to make what’s invisible in our world visible, from the macroscopic level down to the nanoscale.”

Artificial Intelligence and Mental Health

Artificial intelligence is maturing rapidly; but, it’s not new. What excites IBM analysts is AI’s potential to “be a window into our mental health.” Mental health is growing challenge. According to Mental Health America, 1 of every 5 U.S. adults has a mental health condition.[1] “That’s more over 40 million Americans. More than the populations of New York and Florida combined.” Mental illness is often difficult to diagnose and expensive to treat. According to Mental Health America, “56% of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment.” Because machine learning is excellent at identifying patterns, IBM analysts predict, “In five years, what we say and write will be used as indicators of our mental health and physical wellbeing. Patterns in our speech and writing analyzed by new cognitive systems will provide tell-tale signs of early-stage developmental disorders, mental illness and degenerative neurological diseases that can help doctors and patients better predict, monitor and track these conditions.” IBM analysts are hoping that early detection will result in better and cheaper treatment. Currently, they note, “The global cost of mental health conditions is projected to surge to US$ 6.0 trillion by 2030.” They conclude, “What were once invisible signs will become clear signals of patients’ likelihood of entering a certain mental state or how well their treatment plan is working, complementing regular clinical visits with daily assessments from the comfort of their homes.”

Artificial Intelligence and Superhero Vision

In comic books, Superman could do some neat things — flying topped the list, but x-ray vision wasn’t far behind. In real life, we sometimes envy animals with superior vision (be it from distance or at night). IBM analysts predict, “In five years, new imaging devices using hyperimaging technology and AI will help us see broadly beyond the domain of visible light by combining multiple bands of the electromagnetic spectrum to reveal valuable insights or potential dangers that would otherwise be unknown or hidden from view. Most importantly, these devices will be portable, affordable and accessible, so superhero vision can be part of our everyday experiences.” We’ve all seen police chases on television during which heat-sensitive cameras have been used to find suspects trying to hide or viewed soldiers using night vision goggles in order to “own the night.” IBM analysts report, “More than 99.9 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum cannot be observed by the naked eye. Over the last 100 years, scientists have built instruments that can emit and sense energy at different wavelengths. Today, we rely on some of these to take medical images of our body, see the cavity inside our tooth, check our bags at the airport, or land a plane in fog. However, these instruments are incredibly specialized and expensive and only see across specific portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.” In five years, IBM analysts assert, instruments that can see useful wavelengths could be as common on cars as back-up cameras are today. “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. For example, using millimeter wave imaging, a camera and other 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 and its distance and size. Cognitive computing technologies will reason about this data and recognize what might be a tipped over garbage can versus a deer crossing the road, or a pot hole that could result in a flat tire.”

Artificial Intelligence and Understanding the World’s Complexity

We all know the world is becoming more complex. With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), complexity will grow but so will our ability to understand it. IBM analysts call this ability to delve into complexity through data analysis a “macroscope.” They explain, “In five years, we will use machine-learning algorithms and software to help us organize the information about the physical world to help bring the vast and complex data gathered by billions of devices within the range of our vision and understanding. We call this a ‘macroscope’ — but unlike the microscope to see the very small, or the telescope that can see far away, it is a system of software and algorithms to bring all of Earth’s complex data together to analyze it by space and time for meaning.” We’ve in the Big Data era long enough to appreciate the fact that advanced analytics can provide new insights and discover new relationships. According to the IBM analysts, it’s only going to get better. “Thanks to the Internet of Things, new sources of data are pouring in from millions of connected objects — from refrigerators, light bulbs and your heart rate monitor to remote sensors such as drones, cameras, satellites and telescope arrays. There are already more than six billion connected devices generating tens of exabytes of data per month, with a growth rate of more than 30 percent per year. After successfully digitizing information, business transactions and social interactions, we are now in the process of digitizing the physical 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. 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.”

Artificial Intelligence and Medical Labs on a Chip

An old medical adage states, “Prevention is better than cure.” It’s certainly cheaper to prevent than cure. Unfortunately, all medical conditions can’t be prevented. A corollary adage should be, “Early diagnosis and treatment is cheaper than later diagnosis and treatment.” IBM analysts predict, “Medical labs ‘on a chip’ will serve as health detectives for tracing disease at the nanoscale. In 5 years, new medical labs on a chip will serve as nanotechnology health detectives — tracing invisible clues in our bodily fluids and letting us know immediately if we have reason to see a doctor. The goal is to shrink down to a single silicon chip all of the processes necessary to analyze a disease that would normally be carried out in a full-scale biochemistry lab. Early detection of disease is crucial. … Lab-on-a-chip technology could ultimately be packaged in a convenient handheld device to allow people to quickly and regularly measure the presence of biomarkers found in small amounts of bodily fluids, sending this information securely streaming into the cloud from the convenience of their home. There it could be combined with real-time health data from other IoT-enabled devices, like sleep monitors and smart watches, and analyzed by AI systems for insights. When taken together, this data set will give us an in depth view of our health and alert us to the first signs of trouble, helping to stop disease before it progresses.”

Artificial Intelligence and Reducing Pollution

Scientists have always appreciated the value of data. Today, businesses and individuals are also gaining an appreciation about what can be learned when we sense the world around us and analyze the data we collect. IBM analysts predict, “Smart sensors will detect environmental pollution at the speed of light. In five years, new, affordable sensing technologies deployed near natural gas extraction wells, around storage facilities, and along distribution pipelines will enable the industry to pinpoint invisible leaks in real-time. … Networks of IoT sensors wirelessly connected to the cloud will provide continuous monitoring of the vast natural gas infrastructure, allowing leaks to be found in a matter of minutes instead of weeks, reducing pollution and waste and the likelihood of catastrophic events.” Whether or not you believe human activity is contributing climate change, reducing pollution and waste is a good thing.

[1] “The State of Mental Health in America 2017,” Mental Health America.

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