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IBM thinks computers will have senses in five years

The "IBM 5 in 5" lists touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell as the next big things in computing.

Nandagopal Rajan        Last Updated: December 17, 2012  | 21:05 IST

Nandagopal Rajan
Nandagopal Rajan
Will computers have sensory powers in the near future? Well, IBM thinks so.

The "IBM 5 in 5"- a list of innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years - lists touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell as the next big things in computing. The list is based on market and societal trends as well as emerging technologies from IBM's R&D labs.

"We have already witnessed the benefits of cognitive systems for advancing numerous aspects of the human experience - from agriculture and healthcare to utility management and weather forecasting. We envision a day when computers make sense of the world around them just like human brain relies on interacting with the world using multiple senses," said Ramesh Gopinath, Director - India Research Lab and Chief Technology Officer, IBM India/South Asia.

Here are IBM's five predictions:

Touch: IBM thinks within five years we will have mobile device that will allow you to touch and feel products, thus redefining retail business across the world. IBM says its scientists are developing applications for the retail, healthcare and other sectors using haptic, infrared and pressure sensitive technologies to simulate touch, such as the texture and weave of a fabric - as a shopper brushes her finger over the image of the item on a device screen.  Utilising the vibration capabilities of the phone, every object will have a unique set of vibration patterns that represents the touch experience, said a release.

Sight: In the next five years, systems will not only be able to look at and recognise the contents of images and visual data, they will turn the pixels into meaning, beginning to make sense out of it similar to the way a human views and interprets a photograph. So if a future computer sees a red light it will understand that this means stop. A precursor to this can be seen in the form of the Google Goggles app that recognizes products from photographs and gives you info on the same. But IBM says that in five years, these capabilities will be put to work in healthcare by making sense out of massive volumes of medical information. For instance computers will be able to differentiate healthy from diseased tissue.

Sound: A distributed system of clever sensors will detect elements of sound such as sound pressure, vibrations and sound waves at different frequencies and interpret to predict when trees will fall in a forest or when a landslide is imminent. Similarly, by learning about emotion and being able to sense mood, systems will pinpoint aspects of a conversation and analyze pitch, tone and hesitancy to help us have more productive dialogues that could improve customer call center interactions, or allow us to seamlessly interact with different cultures.

Taste: IBM researchers are developing a computing system that experiences flavor. It works by breaking down ingredients to their molecular level and blend the chemistry of food compounds with the psychology behind what flavors and smells humans prefer. By comparing this with millions of recipes, the system will be able to create new flavor combinations that pair. The computer will be able to use algorithms to determine the precise chemical structure of food and why people like certain tastes.

Smell: During the next five years, tiny sensors embedded in your computer or cell phone will detect if you're coming down with a cold or other illness. By analyzing odors, biomarkers and thousands of molecules in someone's breath, doctors will have help diagnosing and monitoring the onset of ailments such as liver and kidney disorders, asthma, diabetes and epilepsy by detecting which odors are normal and which are not. IBM scientists are already sensing environmental conditions and gases to preserve works of art.

Meanwhile, Intel says sensors that ad more security to your device as well as facial analysis and gestures will become a part of daily computing by the end of 2013.

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