(2012 News)

IBM's playlist for the 5 in 5


Predictions about computing in the next five years could take you on a wild ride; so who better to make those lofty claims than the pros at IBM. Although I am still waiting to video chat with a 3D holograph of my friend (an IBM prediction made in 2010), IBM has released their 7th annual 5 in 5 list, which includes 5 predictions about technological innovations that will impact our lives in the next 5 years. Bernie Meyerson, IBM fellow and Vice President of Innovation summarized the predictions by saying, “IBM scientists around the world are [collaborating] on advances that will help computers make sense of the world around them.”



Making sense of the world around them means computers will have to gather all the sensory information they can from their environment. IBM’s 5 predictions say that the senses of a computer will start to resemble or interact with those of humans.



● In the next 5 years, IBM says online shopping might provide more sensory information than just a picture of a shirt. Our mastery of vibrating interfaces, equipped with infrared and pressure sensors will literally give rise to textures that will communicate just how a material feels. By tuning the vibrations of a display to match the vibrations that create the sense of texture, we can create a library of materials, each with its own vibratory patterns. Using this, a farmer away from his crop could not only see pictures of his plants but also feel how the leaves are doing. I must admit, I am skeptical of this tech's usefulness. Could it honestly replace actual touching of an object?



● Smell is a sense we are not used to using in conjunction with our computer friends, but IBM predicts this soon will change. They say that olfactory sensors will begin to appear in consumer devices. At first, these electronic noses will not be able to detect much, but as more smells are cataloged, your sniffing phone could become a detector of many things from deadly carbon monoxide to the early onset of a cold. Factories could use these to detect harmful leaks. Olfaction was a immensely important diagnosis tool before our modern day medical practices, but smell could make a comeback. Analyzing biomarkers in your breath, an electronic nose could help diagnose and monitor disorders of the liver and kidneys, asthma, diabetes and even epilepsy. Analyzing the air is an important feature. The world is a hazardous place, as industrialization increases worldwide, protecting people is key. I can see this happening.



● Next on the list is sound. Computers are getting quite good at listening to a whole lot of noise and sorting out useful ques. Improvements in analysis of pressure and frequencies means portable devices could soon use distinct sounds to predict mechanical failures and even warn of natural disasters like landslides. Our computer friends may even help us in trying to understand our little but complicated infants by analyzing baby talk. If my phone can identify a song based on a short sample of the sound, when not apply it to the rest of the world. This will be explored, I am sure.



● Whenever we upload pictures, our computers are mostly aware of a random collection of pixels until we tag them with places, people, times and other memorable information. In the next 5 years, a computer might start to become aware of much more; enough to interpret what the picture is of or where it was taken. This too could help retailers sort through endless catalogs or it could help horticulturalists diagnose plant diseases. Either way, it will be more difficult to hide information about our pictures from our computers. I fear this will be used for advertisement or human behavior analysis. Little do we know, our vacation pictures help some corporation somewhere. This is already happening with Instagram, in a way. Photographs uploaded there were being used in advertisements. Not that nefarious, but it starts somewhere. Data mining is king.



● Lastly, yes, IBM says computer algorithms could soon begin to catalog the wide range of chemical structures associated with taste. Our digitized studies of how we taste certain foods could begin to explain why some people like certain foods. By exploring our own sense of taste, computers could begin to suggest strange food pairings in order to make healthy foods more palatable and maximize our flavor experience while maximizing nutritional content. Computerized processes could also be used to give people with dietary restrictions, like those with diabetes, alternative foods that comply with their diet but satisfy cravings. The thought of feeding my phone a sandwich is hilarious. However, allowing devices to same what we eat is a great way to stay healthy and avoid food poisoning. One is six become poisoned, it kills 5,000 a year (in the USA), and costs an estimated $152 billion annually in the USA according to WebMD. If tech like this only helps prevent that illness, it is a win in my book.



All in all, these are surprising predictions that will get your sense firing with excitement for the future. Lets just hope they don’t forget about all their previous premonitions!