How Clear Is IBM's Crystal Ball?

In this year's version of its "Next Five in Five" series of predictions, IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) lays out a dizzying vision for 2015.

By then, we're supposed to have 3-D videoconferencing systems, rechargeable batteries on a whole new level, and an end to all traffic jams. All of these advances are, of course, powered by IBM innovations. This future sounds great, and I want to live in it.

But how accurate is Big Blue's crack team of prognosticators? Let's find out: Given that the series audaciously sets a definite five-year timeline for itself and it's been five years since the first installment, we can check out exactly how well the company did. Here we go:

Prognosis 1: FonePal
Reinvent call center navigation by sending visual guides to your instant messenger instead of routing you through a maze of push-button options.

Unfortunately, we're still largely stuck with the frustration of "oprima numero uno" nonsense. In the age of smartphones, you'd think there'd be a way to bypass this inefficient model with some sort of data integration with your call, but no such luck so far. The best you'll see is custom smartphone applications guiding you through help files and maybe even presenting direct contact numbers, but IBM was way off on this guess.

If you've ever encountered IBM's FonePal on your own, you've been around more than I have.

Prognosis 2: TALES
The Translingual Automatic Language Exploitation System (TALES) combines speech-to-text conversion and translation services to display translated captions for video or audio streams, nearly in real time.

This one worked out better: Over the past month, we've marveled over an iPhone application that translates foreign text into English at the push of a button, and YouTube does exactly what IBM proposed these days.

Score one for Big Blue!

Prognosis 3: Remote diagnostics
Here, IBM wanted to see Internet-connected sensors in your home or on your person, ready and able to transmit health data to your doctor or trigger alarms when critical limits had been reached.

This was a home run. IBM's own solutions are pretty popular, but there's plenty of competition. UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) provides remote medical examinations via video conferencing systems from Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) , Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) is in the mix with a leading solution for electronic medical records that hooks into real-time data collectors, and many other tech giants are peeking into this space.

The future is now.

Prognosis 4: 3-D Internet
Circuit City and Sears Holdings (Nasdaq: SHLD  ) opened virtual stores in the virtual world known as Second Life, naturally with an assist from Big Blue. Browsing the interactive stores in glorious interactive 3-D visuals was supposed to help customers make purchase decisions based on how an item would look in a room, and tourist destinations were supposed to use the same tool to visualize their finest tourist magnets. Second Life was a big deal back then.

Well, Sweden did open a virtual embassy in Second Life in 2007 and the buzz around the platform was pretty heavy for a while. But the explosion of interest that IBM envisioned never took place, and I dare you to find a Second Life link in the online stores of any major retailer today.

This one's a bust.

Prognosis 5: Nanotechnology
Microengineering and chemical reactions that would please a real control freak were starting to make a difference in the real world back in 2006. As an example, IBM presented the incredible shrinking mobile phone.

I think it's fair to say that IBM got this one right, as chip designers are starting to push relativistic limits on how small and dense a semiconductor can be while Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) now uses precision engineering as both a competitive advantage and an antipiracy tool. But the chatter around the concept of nanotech has dwindled as these miracles of engineering simply become standard practice, and our Motley Fool Rule Breakers team gave up on nanotechnology venture capitalist Harris & Harris (Nasdaq: TINY  ) after a disappointing lack of real results.

So this one's a win for IBM, but with a tiny asterisk.

IBM: 3, Luddites: 2
Big Blue got its 2006 predictions right more often than not. That, combined with the fact that the company has persisted with the series, bodes well for this year's bodacious bulletin.

Me, I'm looking forward to better batteries first and smoother traffic second. How about you? Discuss IBM's futuristic visions in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. UnitedHealth Group is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Apple and UnitedHealth Group are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool has created a bull call spread position on Cisco Systems. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on UnitedHealth Group. The Fool owns shares of Apple, International Business Machines, and UnitedHealth Group. Motley Fool Alpha owns shares of Cisco Systems. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 1411196, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 8/27/2014 10:59:06 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement