Imagine shopping for clothes online and being able to run your hand across the screen on your computer or smartphone to feel the fabrics. That kind of simulation technology could be available within the next five years.
“We’re talking about reinventing the way computers operate and you interact with them as humans,” says IBM Vice President Bernie Meyerson.
Extending our sense of touch is one of five innovatons IBM believes will change the world in the next five years, according to the company's annual "Five in Five" list.
Smart machines will also soon be able to listen to the environment and highlight the sounds we care about most. For instance, an advanced speech recognition system will tell new parents why their baby is crying.
“Your child is hungry, versus ill, versus lonely," Meyerson says. "This kind of thing is not possible today, but with a sophisticated enough system, it’s actually possible.”
In the near future, personal computers will be able to do more than recognize images and visual data. Their built-in cameras will be able to analyze features such as colors, and understand the meaning of visual media, such as knowing how to sort family photos.
Smart machines will also be able to smell. If you sneeze on your computer or cell phone, tiny sensors embedded in the machine will be able to analyze thousands of molecules in your breath.
“It can give you an alarm and say; ‘Hey, you may not feel sick yet, but you have an infection, you must go see your doctor immediately,’” Meyerson says.
IBM scientists are also developing a system which can experience flavors to be used by chefs to create recipes. It breaks down ingredients to their molecular level and blends them to create the most popular flavors and smells, even as it helps us mind our waistlines.
“It can recommend to you the food you love to taste, but it can also keep track of the caloric limits, whether you have limits on the fat or cholesterol you can eat," Meyerson says. "So it strikes that ideal balance between the best possible taste and the best possible nutritional outcome.”
One of the most impressive things about the IBM list, says Georgetown University computer science professor Mark Maloof, is how powerful these tiny,smart devices are becoming:
"I think one of the surprises in that list is how a lot of very sophisticated computational methods for doing say for example, hearing and vision, have been implemented on these tiny small mobile devices."
Maloof hopes the advances will encourage more students to study science, technology, engineering and math, preparing them to play a role in future innovations.
“It’s going to be exciting to see what young people do with the increased availability of mobile platforms and networking and computing power,” he says.
He believes there’s little doubt advances in computer technology over the next five years will make what now seems like science fiction a part of our everyday lives.