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These five scientific innovations will change our lives

Dino Trevisani is president and GM, IBM Canada.

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories here.

In 1609, Galileo looked through his telescope and proved the invisible theory that Earth and other planets in our solar system revolve around the Sun.

Today's grand challenges are no less significant than the mysteries Galileo and his peers sought to unravel.

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Globally, the costs of treating mental disorders are greater than the costs of diabetes, respiratory disorders and cancer combined. More than 99.9 percent of the electromagnetic environment we live in cannot be observed by the naked eye, leaving us vulnerable to what's hidden from view. It is estimated that food production must increase by 70 percent to meet nutritional demand of a ballooning world population. Diseases like cancer or Parkinson's can be difficult to detect, lurking in our bodies long before symptoms appear. Environmental pollutants enter the air undetected, contributing to climate change.

Through advances in artificial intelligence and the pursuit of new scientific instruments designed to make our invisible world visible, we now have the innovations to change our lives in the following five ways in the next five years.

With AI, our words will be a window into our mental health

The Government of Canada estimates that the incremental economic burden of mental illness for persons over the age of 20 is about $51 Billion.

As healthcare costs escalate, we need to find better ways to predict our mental health before it causes distress. The answer may lie in language. In five years, cognitive assistants and sensors in our smart phones could be "listening" out for us – recognizing patterns in our speech and writing as the first line of defense for protecting our well-being.

Our scientists are already collaborating with medical researchers and using transcripts and audio inputs from psychiatric interviews, coupled with machine learning techniques to find patterns in speech to accurately predict and monitor psychosis, schizophrenia, mania and depression.

Similar cognitive techniques could be used to help patients with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's or PTSD. Combining the results of these measurements with those from wearable devices and imaging systems like MRIs can paint a more complete picture of the individual to better identify, understand and treat underlying disease.

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Hyperimaging and AI will give us superhero vision

In five years, new affordable imaging devices using hyperimaging technology and artificial intelligence will be widely available, giving us the ability see through objects and opaque environmental conditions so superhero vision can be a part of our everyday experiences.

These advances could combine with machine intelligence technologies to help make road and traffic conditions clearer for drivers and self-driving cars. For example, using millimeter wave imaging, a camera and other sensors, hyperimaging technology could help a car see through fog or detect hazardous, hard-to-see road conditions like black ice. What was once beyond human perception will now come into view.

Macroscopes will help us understand Earth's complexity in infinite detail

We have successfully digitized information, business transactions and social interactions. Now, thanks to the Internet of Things, we are now in the process of digitizing the physical world.

In five years, machine learning algorithms and software will help us organize information about the physical world to bring data gathered by billions of devices within the range of our vision and understanding. The "macroscope" will organize all this information through a system of software and algorithms that analyzes all of Earth's data by space and time for meaning.

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Solutions built with macroscope technology will help derive new insights. For example, by aggregating climate, soil and water data and their relationship to irrigation practices, a new generation of farmers will be able to determine the right crop choices and how to produce optimal yields while conserving precious water supplies.

Medical labs "on a chip" will serve as health detectives for tracing disease at nanoscale

Early detection of disease is crucial. Health information can be extracted from tiny bioparticles in bodily fluids like saliva or sweat. Yet, existing techniques face challenges for analyzing these tiny particles, which are thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a single strand of human hair.

Today, IBM researchers are developing lab-on-a-chip nanotechnology to separate and isolate these particles at a scale that gives access to DNA, viruses and even exosomes, which are increasingly being viewed as useful biomarkers for the diagnosis and prognosis of malignant tumors.

In five years, new medical labs-on-a-chip will serve as nanotechnology health 'detectives' and could ultimately be packaged in a handheld device so people can scan themselves and combine the results with other data like sleep monitors and smart watches to help let us know immediately if we need to see a doctor.

Smart sensors will detect environmental pollution at the speed of light

Methane is a primary component of natural gas. If it leaks into the air before being used, it can warm the earth's atmosphere. Consequently, methane is estimated to be the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide (CO2).

In five years, environmental pollutants won't be able to hide thanks to new affordable sensing technologies. Together with analytics techniques driven by artificial intelligence, these technologies will unlock insights to help us prevent pollution and fully harness the promise of cleaner fuels, like natural gas.

Our researchers are working on silicon photonics, an evolving technology that transfers data by light. A tiny silicon photonic chip spectrometer could be embedded in a network of sensors on the ground, within infrastructure or even fly on autonomous drones. Insights generated can be combined with real-time wind or satellite data to develop environmental models that can detect pollutants as they occur.

The world's grand challenges are vast. But they are addressable. Through new insights from scientific instruments we will be able to make what once was invisible visible and help better illuminate the complex systems we depend on. As these latest predictions show, there is no challenge too big or too small for us to set our sights on if we're only bold enough to take the chance.

About the research:

The "IBM 5 in 5" is an annual list of ground-breaking, scientific innovations with the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years. They are based on market and societal trends as well as emerging technologies from IBM Research labs around the world that can make these transformations possible.

Dino Trevisani is president and GM, IBM Canada.

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