IBM Prediction: In 5 Years, Your Touch Screen Will Simulate Textures

Attempting to peer into the future is a dicey proposition for even the biggest of brains—weren’t we supposed to have flying cars by now?—but that doesn’t stop IBM’s best and brightest from compiling a “5 in 5″ list year-in and year-out, consisting of five “innovations that will change our lives in the next five years.”

Today, the company unveiled this year’s picks, which all sport a decidedly human element: each is tied to computers and technology exploring new frontiers with the five human senses.

Hit the link for each sense to see IBM’s long and detailed explanation for its predictions.

Touch – What if you could feel that cashmere before you bought it online? That day might not be far off. IBM’s associate director of retail analytics, Robyn Schwartz, predicts that within five years, touchscreens will use a mixture of close-range vibrations and temperature variations to accurately convey the feel of objects you’re viewing. “It’s already possible to recreate a sense of texture through vibration,” she writes. “But those vibrations haven’t been translated into a lexicon, or dictionary of textures that match the physical experience.” Yet.

Sight – Currently, computers “see” pictures as a collection of pixels, not the image those pixels represent when taken as a whole—but IBM’s senior manager of intelligent information management, John Smith, says that vision is coming to PCs, with the aid of machine learning and thousands of repetitive examples. Once it does, the speed of computerized image recognition should increase dramatically.

Sound – IBM master inventor Dimitri Kanevsky predicts that within five years, a flood of computerized sensors will help humans identify imminent environmental disasters before they happen by picking up on subtle sonic cues, such as the slight groaning of a stressed tree or bridge—or the inaudible (to humans) scraping of tectonic plates underfoot. Computers could be taught to learn what the variations in sound means, he claims, eventually leading to a baby monitor that could accurately identify whether a baby is crying because he’s hungry, teething or, well, pooped.

Taste – “But mom, I know I won’t like the taste of broccoli! I don’t have to try it!” The familiar whine sends shivers down the spines of parents around the globe. But if IBM research scientist Dr. Lav Varshney is correct, the old excuse will be scientific truth within five years. Varshney thinks PCs will increasingly—again, with the help of machine learning—be able to “taste” food (or, more specifically, the chemical elements that comprises all food) to identify and create recipes designed for optimal taste and nutrition.

Smell – IBM’s Dr. Hendrik F. Hamann predicts that five years from now, smartphones (and other technologies) will be able to analyze the thousands of molecules you expel with each and every breath to identify if you’re getting sick, before you’re sick. The cold is an obvious example, but Hamann says the technology could work for “liver and kidney disorders, diabetes and tuberculosis, among others.” If olfactory tech wants to really be useful, hopefully it’ll also be able to let you know when to pop an Altoid before knocking on your hot date’s door.

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