Forget Siri. According to IBM, in five years computers will be able to do a lot more than listen to your voice: They'll be able to read your mind.
IBM has announced its "Next 5 In 5 Forecast," an annual list of five predictions about the technologies the company's innovators think we'll see in the next five years.
The Forecast, which has been around since 2006, has had some misses in the past, such as the 2007 prediction that doctors would develop super-senses to smell illness; but on the whole, the lists have been fairly prescient. A more on-the mark prediction in 2007 said that cellphones would soon take the place of wallets, banks and concierges. Considering the ubiquity of phone payment services, online banking and review apps, IBM was right on. When the folks at IBM predicted that "You will talk to the Web and the Web will talk back" in 2008, they probably didn't know it would only be three years until that became a mainstream reality with the introduction of Apple's voice-activated personal assistant Siri.
One of this year's coolest forecasts -- that computers will soon be able to read your mind -- is already sort of a reality. For example, scientists at the University of Berkeley are able to use images of brain activity to roughly reproduce the picture or video that a person was watching when the activity occurred. Similarly, the EPOC Neuroheadset from electronics company Emotiv uses sensors mounted on the scalp to allow people with neurological disorders, such as locked-in syndrome, to use their minds to move objects on a computer screen.
The people at IBM imagine that even more advanced brain-computer interfaces could bring this kind of interaction to the masses. In a few years, with the help of sensors connected to their mobile phones, people may be able to make a call just by thinking about making a call. This could be pretty awesome, though it might prove embarrassing for the more obsessive among us.
Kevin Brown, a member of IBM's Emerging Technology Services team, outlines other potential uses of this technology in a post on the IBM Research Blog. According to Brown, if people's thoughts were automatically uploaded to a central computer, a heat map could be created showing how people in different areas of a city were feeling. Creative fields, he suggests, may offer the most interesting use of this potential technology. He writes that musicians could use the mind-reading devices to compose music based directly on their thoughts. The ability to "upload" a story or painting directly from your brain would likely be of interest to anyone who has dealt with the exasperating chasm that exists between idea and implementation.
Check out more about this and IBM's other Next 5 In 5 predictions in our slideshow below. To see more of what the future might hold, take a look at 11 mind-blowing concepts that could be right around the corner.