Computers that smell you, and other 5-year IBM predictions

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In the not-too-distant future, all of our five senses may be complemented and in some ways outmatched by powerful computers, according to IBM.

The company has just released its annual "5 of 5" list of technology predictions for the next five years. This time, the focus is on the senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. If all these predictions come true, computers will play a much bigger part in our daily lives than they do now:


Most interesting, perhaps is the prediction that computers will have a sense of smell in five years. IBM imagines that a phone could check your breath, not merely to see if you need a mint, but to tell if you’re getting a cold.

To take it a step further, computers could take a whiff of you at home, and send that information to doctors for remote diagnosis.


Today’s computers can already understand human language, but in the future, they may be able to interpret audio better than we can.

For instance, a computer could understand what a baby wants by listening to its cries, or could predict certain natural disasters by listening to the world around them.


Don’t worry, IBM doesn’t think computers will develop appetites, but the company does think they’ll help us eat better by understanding our tastes.

Through large databases on the chemical structures of foods, computers may be able to develop healthier recipes while still satisfying our tastebuds.


If you’ve ever used an Android phone with a keyboard that vibrates with each tap, you know haptic feedback isn’t a new concept. But IBM thinks the technology will become so advanced in five years that it’ll be able to simulate the texture of real-world objects.

It could be handy to be able to experience tactile data from a distance. For example, if you wanted to order a shirt online, you could feel the fabric on your smartphone.


In five years, IBM predicts that computers will be able to look at images and understand what’s important about them.

For example, in a natural disaster, a computer could interpret incoming photos and help emergency personnel decide where and how to respond.

Although IBM’s predictions may seem like fantasies, the company has been offering its insights and expectations in an annual list since 2006, and many of its past predictions have come to fruition.

Real-time speech translation is now a reality, as predicted in 2006, and we now use our smartphones as ticket brokers, mobile banks, shopping assistants, and concierges, as predicted in 2007. So while the idea of a computer that can smell you may seem silly now, in 2017 it might just be the norm.

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