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IBM predicts computers will become touchy-feely, and smelly

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As we rush headlong towards to end of the year, technologists always like to indulge in a spot of crystal ball gazing. IBM is no exception, and this year Big Blue has decided to make a bold bet on what it thinks will be the most eye-catching innovations of the next five years.

According to IBM researchers, we're about to enter the era of so-called cognitive systems – computers that interact with the world around them using the same five sense that humans use. 

“Cognitive systems will bring even greater value and insights, helping us solve some of the most complicated challenges,” said Bernie Meyerson, IBM vice president of innovation.

According to IBM, advances in haptic technologies will transform our ability to touch objects via our smartphones – enabling users to distinguish between two dresses shown on screen by feeling the differences in fabric.

Computers will also get far cleverer when it comes to sight, being able to analyse the content of images with far more sophistication. They will be able to analyse medical images and spot the first signs of diseases, IBM predicts.

Most people might not think they need a computer that can smell, but that hasn't stopped IBM trying to make one. Electronic noses embedded in smartphones could potentially detect the first whiff of bad breath that might indicate the user is coming down with a bug or is even hypoglycaemic.

The next five years will also bring computers that can listen to their environment, acting as sensors in remote locations to warn of the dangers such as landslides, IBM reckons.

And Heston Blumenthal watch out. IBM estimates that within five years, we'll have computers that can interpret tastes and flavours. IBM researchers believe it will be possible for computers to come up with previously unimagined recipes, potentially finding ways to make healthy foods that taste every bit as good as artery-clogging fast food.

17 Dec 2012

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