IBM: Machines will soon have senses

Within the next five years, we’ll have digital taste, sound analysis and more
Darren Allan

December 18, 2012
IBM Research

IBM has published its 5 in 5 for 2012, the company’s look at upcoming technological innovations which will change the world over the next five years.

And this year, IBM is putting forward the idea that hardware will gain the ability to mimic and augment human senses by 2017.

Sensors are already used quite widely in computers and machines, of course. The parking distance sensors newer cars have, for example.

But future hardware will take things much further. Today, we have touch feedback from, say, game controllers which rumble in a driving game to simulate the juddering when you hit the kerb.

However, IBM sees future smartphones which can use finely tuned vibrations on the screen to imitate certain physical textures. So if, for example, you’re browsing an online shop and some silk sheets, you’ll be able to touch the picture and “feel” an approximation of silk under your fingertip, via the touchscreen.

Okay, so that’s touch – what about sight? IBM points to developments in cognitive visual computing, in other words, computers being able to process and recognise images – and help in, say, medical diagnosis and spotting forming blood clots, tumours and so forth sooner.

In terms of hearing, smartphones of the future will be able to process and detect nuances in sound which we can’t. The hardware will potentially be able to translate a baby’s different crying noises, and their meaning, or dog barking noises.

When it comes to smell, the smartphone will be able to analyse, for example, your breath, and pick up on a cold infection therein before you’ve even remotely begun to get a tickly throat or had a slight sneeze.

Finally, future computers will be able to work with taste and design recipes based on chemical and psychophysiological data to create mind-blowing dishes. And they may be able to optimally balance taste and nutrition to deliver school meals kids can appreciate, and benefit from nutritionally.

If you want to read up more, than see the full IBM 5 in 5 breakdown here.

Of course, IBM is a bit wrong on the number of senses, as there are more than the five which Aristotle labelled, as Stephen Fry once pointed out on the TV show QI.

There are between 9 and 21 senses, Fry notes, depending on who you listen to. For example, touch isn’t simply just touching and feeling things, it’s also sensing pressure, feeling the heat from a fire (which you can do without touching it) – and there are senses such as balance.






 

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