IBM’s ‘Five In Five’ computing predictions focus on the five senses

Bernard Meyerson, the chief innovation officer at IBM, wrote a blog post Monday offering his forecast for the five biggest inventions that will change the world over the next five years. The company is throwing its weight behind the concept of cognitive computing, or machines that can learn from the people using them and “help us think.” As part of the Next Five in Five post, five IBM scientists have given their thoughts on how, within the next five years, technology will be able to more closely mimic the five senses.

For touch, they’ve predicted that you may be able to feel objects through a smartphone. Computers could also be taught to see rather than just display images by seeking out patterns in pixels. Giving computers the ability to hear could provide benefits from canceling out background noise on a conference call to better communication with animals. IBM has predicted that analyzing taste could help combat public health issues such as obesity and malnutrition. Finally, a sense of smell would allow you to check your blood alcohol level on your phone, or have your computer tell you when you are getting a cold. 

The IBM Next 5 in 5 is related to the company’s bigger project called Smarter Planet. The goal of that agenda is to obtain better, more efficient management of our existing systems through interconnectivity, instrumentation, and computing intelligence. Having smarter, nimbler machines is a big step toward that goal. Meyerson gives the example of a robotic track inspector in a railroad tunnel that can not only identify problems, but can respond to its surroundings and thus get out of the way before a train crashes into it. 

Lest you fear that IBM secretly wants computers to take over the world, Meyerson offers a more symbiotic and collaborative outlook. “In the era of cognitive systems, humans and machines will collaborate to produce better results – each bringing their own superior skills to the partnership,” he said. In Meyerson’s view, better machines can help overcome the problems posed by complexity and limited expertise while offering purely objective answers. Adding the capability of senses to a computer would mean people could collect and process even more information about sights, tastes, touches, sounds, and smells. 

It’s a compelling and very exciting view about the future of computing. If you want to get in on the conversation, IBM is using the hashtag #ibm5in5 on Twitter and is collecting votes on which of the five predictions is the coolest. 

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