Five innovations changing how we work, live, interact

IBM has unveiled its latest ‘5 in 5’: five predictions about technology innovations that will change the way humans work, live and interact within the next five years.

The ideas come from thousands of IBM biologists, engineers, mathematicians and physicians who predict that computers will, in their own way, begin to mimic and augment the five senses of humans – to see, smell, touch, taste and hear.

“These innovations will be the underpinning of a new generation of cognitive computers that will learn, adapt, sense and begin to experience the world as it really is,” says Dr John E Kelly III, senior vice president and director of IBM research, in a public lecture on the innovations at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

Kelly directs the worldwide operations of IBM Research, with approximately 3,000 scientists and technical employees at 12 laboratories in 10 countries, and helps guide IBM’s overall technical strategy. In the lecture, he discusses IBM's annual ‘5 in 5’ predictions, which this year include the following:

You'll be able to touch through your phone: The sensation of touch will come to mobile shopping through apps with tactile and infrared technologies. Shoppers will be able to ‘feel’ the texture and weave of a fabric or product by brushing their finger over an image displayed on a device.

A pixel will be worth a thousand words: Systems will view and recognise visual data, such as online photos, medical diagnostic images and traffic camera video, and turn the pixels into meaning, beginning to make sense out of them much in the same way that a human views and interprets images.

Computers will hear what matters: Sound pressure, vibration and sound waves of all different frequencies will not just be recognised but used for predicting when a tree might fall or if a mudslide is imminent. Machines will translate ‘baby talk’ so parents understand if a baby's fussing indicates hunger, tiredness or pain.

Digital taste buds will help you eat smarter: A computer that experiences flavour will determine the precise chemical structure of food and why people like it. Not only will it make healthy foods more palatable – it will also suggest unusual food pairings designed to maximise our experience of taste and flavour.

Computers will have a sense of smell: Your phone will discover if you're coming down with a cold or illness by detecting and analysing the millions of molecules in your breath. Computers will ‘smell’ for chemicals in urban environments to monitor pollution or analyse the soil condition of agricultural crops. Simple sensing systems will measure right down to a single molecule.