Touching through the screen

IBM imagines that inside five years our grasp of haptic technology will have improved to the point our cell phones will communicate a sense of touch to us through their screens. It may be the fabric of the chair you're shopping for at an online store, or it may be a remotely located doctor "feeling" an injury on your body.
[Image: Flickr user DaveBleasdale]

The pixel is mightier than the sword

Imagery is going to be even more key our digital lives, five years hence. IBM's guess is that computers or web services will have vastly improved image cognition systems that may even learn to infer about image contents the way we do. This could help in automated medical imaging. Sharing images will also be more normal, and we may even do it to earn discounts when shopping. Similarly companies may rely more on crowdsourced imagery than they do now, for example to assess levels of damage after a catastrophe.

[Image: Flickr user sanchom]

Listening, not hearing

The human brain is remarkably good at detecting patterns in sounds, and computer's aren't so good right now--as anyone who's shouted at Siri will know. But IBM imagines that cognitive computing will help computer hearing leapfrog our own abilities inside five years, perhaps enabling tech that can understand a baby's cries or perhaps detect the sounds of warning of an imminent natural disaster. Conversely, it's possible ultrasound will find a use as a short-term audio network.

[Image: Flickr user x-ray_delta_one]

Tinkering with taste

One more thing IBM's cognitive tech may be able to detect is the subtle ways that tastes work. In a maneuver that chef Heston Blumenthal will identify with, IBM thinks its Watson tech can identify which tastes will work best with each other at a molecular level...and thus invent totally new recipes. The potential for taste-savcy computing also has health implications, because it may enable new flavorful recipes that are healthier than their old equivalents.

[Image: Flickr user epSos.d]

The sample sniff

Once computers have learned patterns that correspond to different molecules, IBM guesses that soon even your cellphone will be able to tell if you're going to get a cold. The same phone could even sample many different scent molecules automatically, and even alert your doctor to conditions as diverse as diabetes and tuberculosis. Smell tech could also have environmental and creative uses, but it all requires a clever central database of smells and smart sensors.
[Image: Flickr user Dennis Wong]

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IBM Imagines Our Five-Year Future: It's A Touchy, Feely, Smart World

IBM guesses at innovations that will change the world inside the next half a decade, and much of it requires computers that work like your brain.

It's a smart idea to think of IBM as one of the smartest companies ever, so when it releases its regular report, "Next 5 in 5," detailing five innovations that it thinks will change the world inside five years, it's worth paying attention.

This edition of IBM's future forecasting report centers on developments of its amazing Watson technology—the cognitive computer that caught the non-geek world's attention by winning Jeopardy against champion human competitors. Watson's tech represents a new type of computing that processes data in a way that's similar to how your brain does. But Watson's descendants won't be designed to replicate or replace our fragile thinking machines, IBM suggests. Instead, cognitive computing will advance and help our daily lives in all sorts of ways from detecting our illnesses, perhaps before we even have symptoms, to delivering realistic texture sensations through haptic devices.

Most interesting of all, IBM predicts that brainlike tech, including chips that can rewire themselves to "learn" in a way resembling how the human brain makes connections between neurons, can be shrunk so small that a cognitive computer with human brainlike power could fit into a roughly shoebox-size container. Which means it could even be incorporated into robots.

But the core technologies that IBM says its cognitive computing will improve are all about the five senses. Check them out in the slide show above, and then ponder: Would you be comfortable knowing your computer is technically as smart and agile in thinking as you are?

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton, who's a real person not an AI, on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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