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IBM: Five ways technology will shape our lives

IBM’s technology predictions look at revolutionary solutions from accelerating the search for a COVID-19 vaccine to capturing CO2 to slow climate change

Janet Brice
|Oct 15|magazine12 min read

Capturing carbon dioxide to slow climate change and repurposing existing drugs to produce a vaccine for COVID-19 are two of the predictions from IBM’s annual 5 in 5 technology report.

Five ways technology will change our lives within five years, is the IBM Research paper which outlines how accelerating the process of discovery will result in a sustainable future.

Each year, IBM showcases how they believe technology will reshape business and society, informed by work occurring within IBM Research’s global labs and industry trends. 

“Today, the convergence of emerging technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and quantum computing is enabling us to consider a wider range of questions once thought out of reach,” states the report.

“We urgently need to design new materials to tackle pressing societal challenges addressed in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, from fostering good health and clean energy to bolstering sustainability, climate action and responsible production.”

Top five predictions by IBM Research include:

Carbon dioxide conversion - Slow climate change by the capture and reuse of CO2 in the atmosphere 

Antivirals – Repurpose drugs to reduce time spent on drug discovery to beat COVID-19 and future pandemics

Energy storage - Accelerated discovery of new materials for better batteries to meet global demand for electricity without raising the temperature of the Earth

Nitrogen fixation - AI and quantum computing will come up with a solution to enable nitrogen fixation to feed the world’s growing population (estimated to be 10 billion by 2050)

Photoresists - Scientists will embrace a new approach to materials that lets the tech industry more quickly to produce sustainable materials to produce semiconductors and electronic devices 

Taking a closer look at the five predictions reveal the following points: 

  1. CO2 conversion – mitigation of climate change

IBM predicts that it will be possible to capture and reuse carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a bid to slow down climate change.

It is reported that climate change will lead to higher levels of CO2 by 2025 than those seen during the warmest period of the last 3.3 million years. A team of IBM researchers are creating a cloud-based knowledge base of existing methods and materials to capture CO2

Progressing carbon capture and sequestration before it is too late requires an acceleration of the discovery process. Sophisticated AI systems and AI-guided automatic lab experiments would test large numbers of chemical reactions.

The goal over the next five years is to make CO2 capture and reuse efficient enough to scale globally so it can reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere and slow climate change.

  1. Antivirals - learning lessons from the past for a healthy future

IBM predicts medical researchers will identify new opportunities for drug repurposing which would help find a vaccine against COVID-19 and future viruses. 

Scientists estimate there are more than a million viruses in nature with a potential to spread like COVID-19. It can take up to $2.6 billion and more than a decade for a new drug to reach the market.

One way to kick-start the process is to identify potential therapies from existing drugs - jumpstarting subsequent research to help enable rapid clinical trials and regulatory review.

IBM Research outlines that solutions could include a combination of AI analytics and data that could potentially help with real-world medical evidence to suggest new candidates for drug repurposing.

In the context of COVID-19, researchers used this technology with real-world evidence to suggest the use of two existing drugs. The first was approved for specific immunological and endocrine disorders and the second was one in use for treating prostate cancer.

Energy storage - Rethinking batteries

IBM predicts it will be possible to discover new materials for safer and more environmentally preferable batteries capable of supporting a renewable-based energy grid and more sustainable transportation. 

Many renewable energy sources are intermittent and require storage. The use of AI and quantum computing will result in batteries built with safer and more efficient materials for improved performance, stresses the report.

  1. Nitrogen fixation – modelling Mother Nature

IBM predict that it will be possible to replicate nature’s ability to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into nitrate-rich fertiliser, feeding the growing world population while reducing the environmental impact of fertilisers. 

Using the accelerated discovery cycle, researchers will sift through existing knowledge about catalysts. In a few years, a quantum computer might be able to precisely simulate different nitrogen fixation catalytic processes, further augmenting our knowledge. 

“We’ll come up with an innovative solution to enable nitrogen fixation at a sustainable scale.”

  1. Photoresists – sustainable materials

Semiconductor transistors have shrunk, giving us smaller, more powerful gadgets as more processing power onto a single chip. This shrinking has been enabled by materials known as photoresists.

But with billions of phones, TVs, and cars in the world it is imperative all the chemicals, materials and processes used in their manufacture are sustainable.

IBM predicts it will be possible to advance materials manufacturing, enabling semiconductor manufacturers to improve the sustainability of their coveted products.

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