The sign at the IBM facility near Boulder, Colorado is seen with the Boulder Flatiron mountains in the background. Credit: Reuters/Rick WilkinG
Future computing devices will push further into the senses by developing capacities to mimic the ability to see, smell, touch, taste and hear, IBM says in an annual forecast Monday.
The seventh annual "IBM 5 in 5," a list of innovations that have the potential to have an impact in the next five years, said computers and other devices will gain more capabilities to simulate the human senses.
IBM said computers may be able to use algorithms to determine the precise chemical structure of food and why people like certain tastes.
"Not only will it make healthy foods more palatable -- it will also surprise us with unusual pairings of foods actually designed to maximize our experience of taste and flavor," the computing giant said.
"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 predicted that in the next five years, tiny sensors embedded in computers or cell phones will detect if someone is coming down with a cold or other illness, by analyzing odors, biomarkers and thousands of molecules in someone's breath.
These tools will also help doctors diagnose and monitor the onset of ailments such as liver and kidney disorders, asthma, diabetes and epilepsy, according to the IBM report.
For touch, IBM says new tactile, infrared and pressure sensitive technologies will allow people to simulate touch, such as the texture and weave of a fabric, over a mobile device.
"Utilizing the vibration capabilities of the phone, every object will have a unique set of vibration patterns that represents the touch experience," IBM said, pointing out the potential for retail and health care sectors.
IBM said computers are also developing improved capacities to detect and analyze sounds.
"Within five years, a distributed system of clever sensors will detect elements of sound such as sound pressure, vibrations and sound waves at different frequencies," IBM said.
"It will interpret these inputs to predict when trees will fall in a forest or when a landslide is imminent."
"Baby talk" will be understood as a language, according to IBM, helping parents or doctors understand what infants are trying to communicate.
The IBM outlook says another key area for computer innovation will be the ability to analyze visual data, or "see."
"Computers today only understand pictures by the text we use to tag or title them; the majority of the information -- the actual content of the image -- is a mystery," said IBM.
"In the next five years, systems will not only be able to look at and recognize the contents of images and visual data, they will turn the pixels into meaning, beginning to make sense out of it similar to the way a human views and interprets a photograph."
These applications will be able to help analyze images such as X-rays or body scans, but also have an impact on industries from retail to agriculture.
"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 vice president of innovation.
"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."