News / USA

Passwords Could Soon Be Obsolete

IBM lists 5 innovations it expects in next 5 years

Your biological makeup could soon be the key to safeguarding your online identity, making the need for computer passwords obsolete.
Your biological makeup could soon be the key to safeguarding your online identity, making the need for computer passwords obsolete.


Faiza Elmasry

Technology is constantly narrowing the gap between science fiction and reality, bringing fundamental changes into our lives.

According to IBM researchers, in five years we won’t need passwords, won’t be bothered by junk mail and will be able to control many of our machines with our minds.  

The American technology company released its 6th annual Five-in-Five, a list of five innovations the firm expects to see within five years.

One of them will enable us to generate small amounts of energy to supplement the electric power we use in our homes.

“You can do micro-electronic generation,” says Bernie Meyerson, vice president of Innovation at IBM. “For instance, you can have somebody in the third world who has access to a phone or a smart phone, but doesn’t have access to a power grid, which is a very common thing and literally in a shoe has something that recovers energy from walking and can charge the battery to enable that person to actually become connected with the rest of the world.”

Another innovation will make those hard-to-remember passwords obsolete. Soon, in order to access our e-mail or bank account, we'll use a technology known as biometrics. A tiny sensor could confirm your identity by recognizing the unique patterns in the retina of your eye.

“Imagine that things recognize you," Meyerson says. "You walk up to an ATM. It takes one look at you and says, ‘Yep, you’re you.’”

Within five years, it's possible we'll no longer be inundated with junk mail, because a new electronic device will delete it before we ever see it.

“That device, as you act upon it, as you eliminate mail, you don’t read it, you just look at it and kill it," Meyerson says, "after a while it learns your habits and works as your assistant by eliminating stuff you never wanted anyway.”

IBM also sees us controlling many of our electronic devices telepathically.

“A simple ability to command a system to do something without actually doing or saying anything, literally thinking and having something happen, as a result, that’s accurate," Meyerson says. "Something with deep capability so that a person, for instance, who is paraplegic or quadriplegic, can actually utilize brain waves to make things happen and basically run their own lives independently.”

The fifth innovation on IBM’s list is the elimination of the so-called “digital divide,” between those who are and aren't connected.

"We anticipate that, in five years, better than 80 percent of coverage of the world populations by cellular phones and smart phones," Meyerson says. "At this point, imagine having, for instance, the ability to speak openly with anybody anywhere, anytime and in any language, real-time translation - literally the old Star Trek idea of a universal translator coming to be.”

IBM’s track record of predictions over the past five years has been mixed. Some predictions are still not reality. In 2006, for example, IBM researchers predicted there would be a 3D Internet by now.

However, in 2009, they predicted city buildings would “sense and respond” like living organisms. Three years later, that future is here. At a New York art museum, sensors are detecting subtle fluctuations in temperature, humidity, air flow and light levels, and adjusting the building’s environment to help preserve the works of art.

What’s important about the Five-in-Five list, says IBM’s Meyerson, is it encourages the researchers to turn as much of their innovative imagination as possible into practical realities.

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