At the end of each year, IBM releases its “5 in 5”–five technology predictions that IBM researchers foresee coming to fruition within the coming five years. These predictions are based on everything from emerging market trends to cultural and social behaviors to actual technologies IBM has incubating in its many labs. And if this year’s predictions are to be believed, many computational systems–from your tablet and laptop to your smartphone–are about to get a lot more sensory, learning to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell in their own digital ways.
Welcome to the era of cognitive systems, IBM’s researchers say. “Cognitive computing systems will help us see through complexity, keep up with the speed of information, make more informed decisions, improve our health and standard of living, enrich our lives and break down all kinds of barriers—including geographic distance, language, cost and inaccessibility,” the company says in a press release.
How? By mimicking the senses. IBM predicts that things like computer vision will revolutionize computing, particularly through health care where images like MRIs and CT scans won’t just be used by individual doctors to diagnose specific patients, but to find trends and meaning within huge volumes of medical image data. Where sound is concerned, IBM believes distributed sensor systems will begin to capture and analyze sound in new and meaningful ways (by assigning relevance to the inaudible characteristics of sounds waves, for instance) to do all kinds of things, from testing materials for weak spots to deciphering baby talk (no joke). Likewise, computers will have a sense of smell. Computers like your smartphone will be able to diagnose illnesses based on biomarkers on your breath, helping to aggregate epidemiological data and keep health authorities out in front of outbreaks.