Between nanotechnology and artificial intelligence: a future at hand. The IBM scenario

Innovation consists in putting together pieces to solve the puzzle. Thus the prof. Marks, from the Medical Center of Columbia University, tries to frame the definition of innovation in the field of biomedical research 1 . The puzzles are fascinating, challenging but fascinating, a challenge to the last piece, without ever losing sight of the nuances and, you know, with each one who proposes a personal technique to advance in the work. Time and care for that final glance where light, perspective and horizon unfold. Do you know the feeling? Satisfaction, complacency, in noticing the beauty of the landscape or the depicted artwork, it is not your work but that you have pulled out of the chaos, giving it an organization, a structure. And finally everything becomes visible.

Credit: IBM

Credit: IBM

IBM is well aware of the fascination of unveiling what will happen shortly thereafter, aware, and therefore ready, to outline strategies and to govern those innovations that, in the next five years 2 , they will change our lives. On the web page dedicated to the annual report of the multinational company stands the motto “The invisible made VISIBLE” because we all find ourselves in this statement, if we want a lot of pop, but of effect. It is no coincidence that IBM, in presenting the study, cites Galileo’s invention of the telescope in 1609 and, in my opinion, could also have drawn from mythology or comics, because seeing beyond our abilities is in the cords of Ulysses as of superheroes. What makes our effort to look forward is special, besides the human aspiration to cross the finis mundi I believe it is the possibility of improving human lives.
Let’s think about the mental disorders . It is expected that in 2030 will be the most frequent diseases in the world, but in Europe already represent a pandemic: the health challenge of the third millennium, which affects about 38.2% of the inhabitants of the Old Continent, for a total of almost 165 million patients on a population of about 514 mln. Of the patients, only 1 in 3 receive drugs or other therapies. For 2 out of 3 no cure 3 . In the United States today, 1 in 5 adults suffer from depression, bipolarity or schizophrenia. In five years, according to IBM analysts, the artificial intelligence will allow to develop cognitive computers able to analyze the written and spoken language of people, offering the possibility to diagnose and monitor disorders such as, among others, autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In IBM transcripts and recordings of psychiatric interviews are combined with machine learning techniques, to obtain language models that can help healthcare professionals to accurately predict and monitor psychosis and obsessive disorders. Cognitive computers will focus on syntax and intonation, the results of these measures combined with wearable devices and imaging systems, will provide a more complete picture.

Beyond the domain of visible light.

As is known, more than 99% of the electromagnetic spectrum is not visible to the naked eye, however, the hyperimaging technologies combined by IBM with artificial intelligence tools will allow to aggregate multiple bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. Imagine the impact that such technologies will have on food and drugs, if associated, for example, with smartphones: an “enhanced” vision with real-time reading of nutritional values ​​with a simple photo and verification of safety parameters.

Macroscopes and terrestrial complexity.

To have esabytes of data and not to get lost. A data scientist takes on average about 80% of his time just trying to find his way among them, and only a small part can focus on their analysis and, therefore, understanding. The Internet of Things makes new sources of data available from millions of connected objects: from refrigerators to heart rate monitors, to remote sensors such as drones, weather stations, satellites. Already more than 6 billion connected devices generate tens of esabytes of data every month, with a growth rate that exceeds 30% a year. The so-called macroscopes are software and machine learning algorithms that will be the tools able to organize the information related to the physical world collected by billions of devices connected to each other. Potential? We will be able to have more information on topics that represent current global challenges, such as the availability of food, water and energy.

The health detectives.

We all know that prevention is fundamental. We also know that diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s are hard to detect, hiding in our bodies before symptoms are visible. Here new devices of biological and medical on-chip analysis come into play, which, by exploiting nanotechnologies, will act as real detectives. The chips, according to IBM, will be able to derive valuable information from tiny bioparticles (thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a hair) contained in body fluids (eg saliva, tears, blood, urine and sweat). Thinking that this analytical capacity could be contained in a handheld, appealing and user-friendly device, able to quickly and regularly measure the presence of various biomarkers and to send this information in streaming on the cloud, from home, makes the futuristic particularly image that derives from it.

Sensoristics for pollution.

Pollution is before our eyes and our consciences. But not all pollutants are visible to the human eye, at least until their effects become impossible to ignore. Methane, considered by all as a source of clean energy, if dispersed in the air before use, strongly affects global warming, depending only on carbon dioxide. Sensor networks connected to the cloud wirelessly will allow, according to the IBM survey, a continuous monitoring of the vast natural gas extraction infrastructure, allowing to detect leaks in a few minutes instead of weeks, reducing pollution and quantity of waste, as well as the probability of catastrophic events.
Based on IBM’s forecasts, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence will mark the horizon of short-term progress. The puzzle is far more than complex. We have them at our fingertips. And in our hand, along the life line, we read “curiosity” and “responsibility”.


  1. Marks, A. Repaving the road to biomedical Innovation Thesis Academia – Science Translational Medicine 3 (89) 2011.
  2. IBM 5 in 5
  3. 23rd EPA Congress, European Association of Psychiatry, summit 2015 – Adnkronos elaboration March 2015.

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