The Urgency of Science

Five Ways to
Future-Proof Our Planet

IBM reveals the five technologies set to change our world in the next five years.

There’s no denying it: our planet is hotter than ever. Researchers at Rutgers University have shown that the world is now at its highest annual temperature for 10,000 years.

Their analysis of marine sediments off northern Papua New Guinea shows human-driven climate change is causing an unprecedented crisis. Around the globe in 2020, a disturbing number of disasters, from the worst-ever forest fires in California to mass flooding in parts of China, India, and Vietnam, can be linked to the effects of global warming.

While we can’t change the past, scientists believe that what we do now can mean the difference between living on a sustainable planet or one beyond repair. “2020 has reiterated the essential role of science and the need for clear action to combat some of the greatest challenges of our time,” says Gargi Dasgupta, Director, IBM Research India, and CTO, IBM India/South Asia.

Hope for Our Future

Announced in 2020, IBM’s 5 in 5 predictions are designed to focus our minds on the issues confronting us and have evolved from IBM’s Research Labs, leading-edge work with clients, and analyzing broader industry and global trends.

Looking ahead, the five technologies that IBM believes will reshape business and society across the globe over the next five years are:

Capturing and transforming CO2's harmful emissions into usable energy

Recreating fertilizer with help from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help feed the world

Rethinking battery and energy storage

Creating more sustainable computing components

Being better prepared for the next pandemic

These advances, which align with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, are achievable thanks to the recent progress of technology that includes AI, hybrid cloud, automation, and in the near future, quantum computing. The combination of these technologies is expected to supercharge the discovery of new materials from 10 times to 100 times faster.

“Recent developments in materials science have demonstrated the potential of accelerated discovery. For example, internally at IBM, we have applied deep search using AI to speed up the ingestion of more than 6,000 scientific papers and patents and accelerated extraction of knowledge by a thousand times. The result: in less than a year, we’ve developed a promising new, sustainable material for semiconductor manufacturing,” said Dasgupta.

Where Are They Now?

There's a good track record of success
for IBM's 5 in 5:


It was forecasted that by 2022, machine learning algorithms and software would be able to organize and simplify data gathered by billions of devices to find new insights that offer early market intelligence.


Scientists created the experimental “macroscope” IBM PAIRS Geoscope, and researchers are using it to perform complex analyses that rapidly reveal key interconnections between data sets.


These data sets were used to analyze the impact of Covid-19; by examining data points from around the globe, including light intensity in cities, transportation data, and CO2 emissions, researchers got their answers via a simple query and less than 40 lines of code.

Making Life Better

Scientists are working hard to turn predictions into reality all over the world. IBM and Daimler have published research on using a quantum computer to develop next-gen batteries. In March 2021, IBM scientists from Brazil presented their research on new carbon capture materials at the American Physical Society conference.

In Asia, IBM Research India is developing a suite of AI applications for food and manufacturing supply chains to optimize resources and maximize productivity in an environmentally sustainable manner. The concept, known as “Agristack”, is designed to be future-ready, flexible, secure, and customized to end-users.

This technology is crucial to bring the global US$5 trillion industry up to date. For farmers across India, determining an accurate price for their crops as much as a month in advance at local marketplaces – known as “mandi” – is crucial to their livelihoods. For generations, farmers have wrestled with factors such as crop health, weather, and ultimate supply. The need for a faster, more accurate model that can be used throughout the entire farming ecosystem has the power to transform the industry.

IBM developed a model to utilize weather data, crop, and fuel price information, up to the minute satellite information, dollar conversion rates, and more. The AI-assisted system was then given to farmers, supply chain managers, and government planners in the districts of Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Mysore, Davangere, and Haveri. This has resulted in a more efficient and fluid system for everyone involved in the supply chain.

In other ongoing projects, IBM researchers are developing climate-aware technologies that can make supply chains resilient against impacts of climate change. By modeling the impacts of changing weather patterns and extreme events, researchers can predict the long-term effects on food production, food wastage, logistics, and managing consumer demand – all while optimizing carbon emissions.

Agriculture is the mainstay of India’s rural economy, and technologies such as AI and cloud can unlock its true potential. Data-driven solutions can empower farmers, strengthen the sector’s competitiveness and promote sustainable growth.
— Shantanu Godbole, Senior Manager, Future of Climate, IBM Research India

Feeding the World, Efficiently

By 2050, it is likely we will have to feed more than two million extra people. To meet the demand for food, farming needs to modernize – and fast. Thai company Mitr Phol is the third-largest sugarcane producer in the world and the largest in Asia. The crop is used for sugar and bioenergy around the globe. While the company can process 20 million tons a year, it can further maximize its output. Since 2019, IBM, Mitr Phol, and Thailand’s National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) have joined forces to create climate-aware cognitive farming programs, which will enable the company to increase yields.

Palm oil is another Asian crop increasingly in demand thanks to its versatility. The industry produced 73 million tons between 2019 and 2020, and global demand is expected to triple by 2050. The crop requires a lot of water and nutrients, and farmers need ways to farm more ethically, efficiently, and sustainably.

A big challenge for farmers is a lack of data about their land. To aid them, IBM Research created a machine learning model called the Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture (WDPA).

By utilizing remote sensing satellites, researchers can monitor land surfaces. AI models can then use data to determine crop health, water stress, soil moisture, and weather. The monitoring and forecast solutions can enable plantation managers to fertilize their crops more efficiently, conserve water, avoid deforestation and potentially increase yields while controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

These models process large amounts of multi-modal geo-spatial data combined with large global physical simulations to learn patterns that can be used to make informed decisions for crop management.
— Shantanu Godbole, Senior Manager, Future of Climate, IBM Research India

What 5 In 5 Means to Us

While all of IBM’s 5 in 5 predictions should have far-reaching implications globally, the AI applications for food supply chains will have an immediate impact on consumers. More efficient supply chains can help increase harvest by farmers and avoid food waste by consumers. Effective models can help track farm conditions as well as storage conditions for produce in stores.

For the first time in history, we have the right tools to solve the global problems that we face today. We can create sustainable solutions that ensure a steady food supply, that global demand for clean energy is met, and we find new drugs for fighting off the next pandemic. By capturing and transforming CO2 to mitigate climate change, we can look forward to a future with fewer devastating climate disasters.

Science and technology can help us address the systematic challenges that the world is facing to create a more equitable planet. Through speeding up our discovery of new materials and processes, we can reshape society, address climate change and enable a sustainable future for us all.
— Gargi Dasgupta, Director, IBM Research India, and CTO, IBM India/South Asia
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