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IBM Predicts Top IT Innovations

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Imagine being able to view a 3D image of a person calling you from their smartphone and having a laptop powered by kinetic energy.

All this will be possible and more, according to IBM's latest technology predictions for the next five years. The company's annual "Next Five in Five" list of innovations that will be possible by 2015 also includes "breathing" batteries and "adaptive traffic systems" that could personalize someone's commute and predict traffic issues. The list is the result of surveys conducted with over 3,000 IBM researchers at its Almaden research center in San Jose, Calif.

The lead item on the list is the ability to have holographic conversations from mobile phones. Rounding out the list of other predictions are the rechargeable batteries and sensors in cars, as well as phones that provide environmental information and homes powered by heat generated from computer servers. "Up to 50% of the energy consumed by a modern data center goes toward air cooling," IBM said in a statement. "Most of the heat is then wasted because it is just dumped into the atmosphere."

Current lithium-ion batteries could be replaced by batteries using energy-dense metals that could last 10 times longer and recharge by interacting with the air, IBM researchers predicted. "If successful, the result will be a lightweight, powerful, and rechargeable battery capable of powering everything from electric cars to consumer devices," IBM said.

Computer programs that use algorithms and real-time traffic information to forecast traffic jams will help make people's commutes easier, IBM said. According to a YouTube video the company posted, people could collect real-time data about the environment through sensors in their phones, cars, and wallets, which could then be used by scientists to conduct research.

The company's first list of predictions, which came out at the end of 2006, included 3D Internet and instantaneous speech translation. None of the predictions have happened yet, but a 2007 prediction that mobile phones would act as a wallet, bank, ticket broker, concierge, and shopping assistant has emerged. Consumers can use apps to pay bills, purchase movie tickets, and shop from their phones.

Last year IBM invested $5.8 billion in research and development, which comprised 6.1% of its revenue. "They have continued to do research when all the other grand research organizations are gone," said Paul Saffo, managing director of foresight at the San Francisco investment-advisory firm Discern, according to Bloomberg. "In an era when pessimism is the new black, a little dose of technological optimism is not a bad thing."