As we cruise through the final days of 2011, the scribes of media and technology are busy laying their visions for the future.

Based on two articles in Monday morning’s New York Times, we should all fasten our seat belts, 2012 is going to be a fast and fascinating ride. For healthcare organizations, many of which are struggling mightily just to implement and remain current with basic information systems infrastructure to improve patient safety and operating efficiency, these predictions may evoke a dire question: How can we afford to keep up? For an industry that trails other business sectors from five to 10 years in terms of information systems, that is a legitimate concern with some interesting consequences. To tackle this situation, the healthcare sector could employ pharma intelligence that uses AI algorithms to analyze medical data, allowing early identification of untreated diseases and treat the patients with appropriate medicines or necessary interventions. But that is a discussion best left for another day.

Let’s start today with something as basic as the remote control for the television. Respected media writer David Carr of the New York Times characterizes the current evolution of the remote as “…a little like hitting your television with a stick until it delivers what you want. If things go as they should, we will spend less time looking under the couch for the remote and more time telling our television to get us the seventh episode of the second season of ‘Boardwalk Empire’.” This month “Xbox 360 owners were already able to search TV shows by voice. “…someday I should be able to walk into a hotel in Kansas, tell the television who I am and find [all the content that] I have [previously] bought and paid for there, for the consuming,” Carr writes. This is one of the many promises of Cloud computing. But for now, finding reliable remotes that can be used on your television is a necessity in practically every household.

“The iPad on your lap is a screen that makes it easy to navigate toward a completely personal experience. That screen on your living room wall is going to have to perform the same way to remain relevant.”

Traditional content providers like the Wall Street Journal are already adding hours upon hours each month of video content to the web site to provide greater context for the stories in the morning business newspaper, still the largest daily circulation in the United States. Venerable papers like Mr. Carr’s New York Times will either master the integration of video with written content, creating new value for paying subscribers, or they will perish.

Once news content providers with minimal presence in the U.S., like the BBC and Al Jazeera, “are no longer regional curios, they are here,” Mr. Carr explains. (FYI, current and former state department officers say Al Jazeera is a good source of information regarding developments in the Middle East, and the thinking of the Arab Street. BBC broadcasts on numerous US NPR outlets. This, too, is a great source of world news that most US TV networks and newspapers no longer cover.)

Most people do not know who Bernie Meyerson is and feel no compulsion to learn more about him. They should. He is the Vice President for Innovation at I.B.M. and a highly regarded researcher in advanced microprocessor design and computer systems. It is Mr. Meyerson who ovrsees I.B.M.’s list of technological innovations that they think will come true in the next five years:

  1. Small amounts of energy created by actions like people walking, or water running through a pipe, will be captured and stored in batteries and used to power things like phones, cars, or homes. “You will see new ecosystems for generation and capture,” the NY Times quoted Mr. Meyerson in its Monday morning BITS section. “You [people] generate 60 to 65 watts [of energy] while walking. You could easily use that to power your phone forever.”
  2. Passwords as used today will disappear as increasingly powerful phones and sensors will store your personal biometric information. This will enable computers and other machines to validate who you say you are.
  3. Sensors on and inside the human brain will allow for the mental control of objects. There are already experiments where the mind moves sensors, but Mr. Meyerson goes further: “You will observe thought patterns, which are highly personal. You can use this to better understand stroke or disorders like autism,” Mr. Meyerson predicted.
  4. Powerful mobile devices capable of precise language translation will belong to 80 percent of the world’s population. Ubiquitous voice recognition and translation capabilities will make the phones useful to large segments of the population that are illiterate or who use languages that are not easily written with keypads. (Does anyone think the world can become flatter?)
  5. Personalized information filters and search will bring you only the information you want. “This will invert the premise of marketing. The [smart] phones will start to be your advocate, recognizing what is near and dear to you and getting it. Instead of companies speaking to you, you will reach out to companies.” (This makes Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, a novel concept of the Fast Company era of the 90s almost irrelevant.)

A county judge in Fort Worth once said of major change: “The train is on the tracks. You are either on the train or on the tracks.”

That seems to be remarkable guidance for those of us in healthcare as we scramble to adapt to these technological changes.

2011 John Gregory Self