Someday not too far away, according to IBM's crystal ball, your mobile phone will project a three-dimensional image of anyone who calls, and your laptop will be powered by kinetic energy.
The predictions are part of an annual tradition for International Business Machines Corp., the world's largest provider of computer service, which surveys its 3,000 researchers to find five ideas expected to take root within five years.
Holographic - 3-D - conversations, projected from mobile phones, lead this year's list.
The predictions also include air-breathing batteries, computer programs that can tell when and where traffic jams will take place, environmental information generated by sensors in cars and phones, and cities powered by the heat thrown off by computer servers.
"These are all stretch goals, and that's good," said Paul Saffo, managing director of foresight at the investment-advisory firm Discern in San Francisco. "A little dose of technological optimism is not a bad thing."
For IBM, it is not just idle speculation. The Armonk, N.Y., company is one of the few big corporations investing in long-range research projects, and it counts on innovation to fuel growth, Saffo said.
Not all of its predictions pan out, though. IBM was overly optimistic about the spread of speech technology, for instance. But when the ideas do lead to products, they can have broad implications for society, as well as IBM's bottom line, he said.
"They have continued to do research when all the other grand research organizations are gone," said Saffo, who is also a consulting associate professor at Stanford University.
IBM invested $5.8 billion in research and development last year, or 6.1 percent of revenue. While that is down from about 10 percent in the early 1990s, the company spends a bigger share on research than its computing rivals. Hewlett-Packard Co., the top maker of personal computers, for example, spent 2.4 percent last year.
Many of the predictions are based on projects that IBM has in the works. One of this year's ideas - that sensors in cars, wallets, and personal devices will give scientists better data about the environment - is an expansion of the company's citizen-science initiative.
Earlier this year, IBM teamed up with the California State Water Resources Control Board and the City of San Jose Environmental Services to help gather information about waterways. IBM researchers created an application that lets smartphone users snap photos of streams and creeks and report back on conditions. The hope is that these casual observations will help local and state officials who do not have the resources to do the work themselves.
IBM also sees data helping shorten commutes in the next five years. Computer programs will use algorithms and real-time traffic information to predict which roads will have backups, and how to avoid getting stuck.