What will the IT world look like in five years? That's the annual question that IBM has asked for the last seven years with its Five in Five report. The 2012 report is now out, and for Big Blue the future of IT is all about the five senses.
That's right, IT is set to move from being all visual to a new era where sight is complemented by touch, audio and yes even taste and smell.
Touch technology has become increasingly common with the rise of smartphone and tablets in recent years. IBM predicts that touch technology will become more tactile, moving beyond the uniform feel of today's touch screen. In the next five years, IBM expects users to actually be able to feel different textures to enable more realistic tactile experiences.
While humans have used their eyes to look at and consume IT information for decades, IBM predicts that soon technology will be doing that same. According to IBM, in the next five years, technology will move to understand visual images in a more cognitive way. So instead of simply storing and tagging images, computers will understand what images actually mean.
"IBM scientists around the world are collaborating on advances that will help computers make sense of the world around them,” said Bernie Meyerson, IBM Fellow and VP of Innovation in a statement. "Just as the human brain relies on interacting with the world using multiple senses, by bringing combinations of these breakthroughs together, cognitive systems will bring even greater value and insights, helping us solve some of the most complicated challenges."
That cognitive ability will also extend to audio capabilities as well. While computers have long had audio capabilities, IBM expects new technology to emerge that will enable computers to understand audio as well.
"Some of my colleagues and I patented a way to take the data from typical baby sounds, collected at different ages by monitoring brain, heart and lung activity, to interpret how babies feel," IBM Master Inventor Dimitri Kanevsky , wrote in a blog post. "Soon, a mother will be able to translate her baby's cries in real time into meaningful phrases, via a baby monitor or smartphone."
While sight, touch and hearing have all in some way shape or form been present in computer technology for many years, the same cannot be said for smell and taste. IBM has researchers today that are building technology that will understand taste at a molecular level. The idea is that the technology can eventually be used to create new flavors and better tasting, healthier food.
"In the case of people with special dietary needs such as individuals with diabetes, it would develop flavors and recipes to keep their blood sugar regulated, but satisfy their sweet tooth," IBM stated in a press release.
The smell capabilities that IBM is predicting could potentially be used to let you know if you have some kind of illness. The technology will analyze odors and understand what those smells actually mean from a biochemical perspective.
All told the future innovation that IBM is forecasting for the next five years, portend an era of smarter computing, though not an era where computing replaces humans.
"I don't believe that cognitive systems will usurp the role of human thinkers," Meyerson said. "Rather, they’ll make us more capable and more successful -- and, hopefully, better stewards of the planet."