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Touching, Smelling and Interacting with Mobile: IBM’s Predictions for 2017

Every year IBM make five predictions about the future five years out (they call it “5 in 5”), and this years are fascinating, especially for anyone interested in the human senses. This year the five predictions cover the five senses, and I can’t wait to see if they come true.

The predictions start with touch, and here IBM say that within the next five years, computers will be able to let us “feel” the texture of a fabric before we buy clothes online. You will be able to distinguish textures and weaves through the computer. “Rumble packs” in gaming have been around for a while, and the technology is a miniaturised and sophisticated version of that which creates different textures through tiny vibrations and fluctuations in temperature of a screen.

The second prediction is that computers will be able to learn to “see” replicating the pattern recognition ability of the human brain. Humans are fantastically good at this, but until now computers have been poor learners, and it seems that the trick is to expose computers with 1080p monitors to thousands and thousands of examples until they learn to recognise the patterns, just as the brain does. Such technology could be used to review medical images and traffic information at the speed of the computers circuitry, or even to be able to spot changes in the health of their owners.

What if computers could interpret the meaning of sounds, even those ambient noises in the environment? Sensors are already used to
monitor for natural disasters, but what if sensors could tell if a car engine sound indicates a problem, whether a building or a tree was about to fall over in a storm, or whether a baby’s crying indicated that they needed feeding, nappy change or something more serious? It could even enable your computer to cancel or reduce background noise, whatever your current location.

The fourth prediction is for digital tastebuds, enabling computers to replicate the rich range of foods and drinks that we all enjoy, and perhaps create new choices too. The computer would be able to learn the molecular chemistry behind the best dishes and create new mixtures of tastes, based on the chemistry of the food and its understanding of what people like.

The  fifth and final prediction is about computers and handphones analysing your breath, not just to see if you’ve been drinking at the Christmas party, but perhaps to detect changes in your health. It might be able to tell you that you are about to catch a cold, or that there are toxins in the air.

The senses are the key to our rich experience of the world, and IBM think that computer’s would like a piece of the action too. You can read more details at IBM’s Research Blog here.

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