IBM has issued its seventh annual look at what it thinks will be the five biggest technologies in the next five years.
For 2012, the company has taken a slightly different approach, with each entry on the list relating to our senses. The company believes cognitive computing, whereby computers learn rather than passively relying on programming, will be at the core of these innovations, enabling systems that will enhance and augment each of our five senses. "Just as the human brain relies on interacting with the world using multiple senses, by bringing combinations of these breakthroughs together, cognitive systems will bring even greater value and insights, helping us solve some of the most complicated challenges," said Bernie Meyerson, IBM fellow and vp of innovation. Touch: You will be able to touch through your phone In the next five years, IBM predicts industries such as retail will be transformed by the ability to 'touch' a product through a mobile device. Scientists at the organisation are currently developing applications for a number of sectors using haptic, infra red and pressure sensitive technologies to simulate touch, such as the texture and weave of a fabric. "Using digital image processing, digital image correlation, we can capture texture qualities in a product information management system to act as a dictionary," said the company in a statement. "Retailers could then use it to match textures with their products and their products' data – sizes, ingredients, dimensions, cost, and any other information the customer might expect. The dictionary of texture will also grow and evolve as we grow our appetite, usage and understanding of this kind of technology." Sight: A pixel will be worth a thousand words In the future, IBM believes a computer vision could save a life by analysing patterns to make sense of visuals in the context of big data. In industries as varied as healthcare, retail and agriculture, a system could gather information and detect anomalies specific to the task – such as spotting a tiny area of diseased tissue in an MRI and applying it to the patient's medical history for faster, more accurate diagnosis and treatment. The technology could also help in the real time monitoring of disaster areas through analysing images uploaded to social networking sites, the company says. Hearing: Computers will hear what matters IBM beleives that by 2017 a distributed system of what it calls 'clever sensors' could detect elements of sound such as sound pressure, vibrations and frequency changes – to predict weaknesses in a bridge before it buckles, the deeper meaning of a baby's cry, or even a tree breaking down internally before it falls. By analysing verbal traits and including multi-sensory information, IBM believes machine hearing and speech recognition could even be sensitive enough to advance dialogue across languages and cultures. Taste: Digital taste buds will help you eat smarter Obesity and malnutrition pose severe health risks for populations around the world. As such, IBM is working to compute 'perfect' meals using an algorithmic recipe of favourite flavours and optimal nutrition. The envisioned system would break 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, IBM says the system will be able to create new flavour combinations and even predict their taste appeal. Smell: Computers will have a sense of smell IBM predicts that soon, tiny sensors embedded in your computer will be able to tell you that you're coming down with a cold before your very first sneeze. Similar to how a breathalyser can detect alcohol from a breath sample, these sensors could be used to identify liver and kidney disorders, diabetes and tuberculosis, among others. IBM says the same smell technology, combined with deep learning systems and communication technologies, could even troubleshoot operating room hygiene and be used in agriculture to 'smell' or analyse the soil condition of crops.