Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Ooh Ooh That Smell — IBM’s 2012 “5 in 5”: Innovations Of The Senses

with 40 comments

IBM released its annual “5 in 5” list yesterday, the seventh year in a row whereby IBM scientists identify a list of innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years.

The IBM 5 in 5 is based on market and societal trends, as well as emerging technologies from IBM’s R&D labs around the world. This year, the 5 explores innovations that will be underpinnings of the next era of computing, what IBM has described as “the era of cognitive systems.”

This next generation of machines will learn, adapt, sense, and begin to experience the world as it really is, and this year’s predictions focus on one element of the this new era: The ability of computers to mimic the human senses — in their own manner, to see, smell, touch, taste and hear.

But before you try and spoon-feed your iPad some vanilla yogurt, let’s get more practical.

These new sensing capabilities will help us become more aware, productive, and help us think — but not do our thinking for us.

Rather, cognitive systems will help us see through and navigate complexity, keep up with the speed of information, make more informed decisions, improve our health and standard of living, and break down all kinds of barriers — geographical, language, cost, even accessibility.

Now, on to our five senses.

1) Touch: You will be able to touch through your phone.  Imagine using your smartphone to shop for your wedding dress and being able to feel the satin or silk of the gown, or the lace on the veil, from the surface on the screen. Or to feel the beading and weave of a blanket made by a local artisan half way around the world. In five years, industries like retail will be transformed by the ability to “touch” a product through your mobile device.

IBM scientists are developing applications for the retail, healthcare and other sectors using haptic, infrared and pressure sensitive technologies to simulate touch, such as the texture and weave of a fabric — as a shopper brushes her finger over the image of the item on a device screen. Utilizing the vibration capabilities of the phone, every object will have a unique set of vibration patterns that represents the touch experience: short fast patterns, or longer and stronger strings of vibrations. The vibration pattern will differentiate silk from linen or cotton, helping simulate the physical sensation of actually touching the material.

2) Sight: A pixel will be worth a thousand words. We take some 500 billion photos a year, and 72 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. But computers today only understand pictures by the text we use to tag or title them; the majority of the information — the actual content of the image — is a mystery.

In the next five years, systems will not only be able to look at and recognize the contents of images and visual data, they will turn the pixels into meaning, making sense out of it similar to the way a human views and interprets a photographs. In the future, “brain-like” capabilities will let computers analyze features such as color, texture patterns or edge information and extract insights from visual media, having a potentially huge impact on industries ranging from healthcare to retail to agriculture.

But please, no Escher drawings, at least for now…that’s just plain mean.

3) Hearing: Computers will hear what matters.  Ever wish you could make sense of all the sounds around you and be able to understand what’s not being said? Within five years, distributed systems of clever sensors will detect elements of sound such as sound pressure, vibrations and sound waves at different frequencies.

It will interpret these inputs to predict when trees will fall in a forest or when a landslide is imminent. Such a system will “listen” to our surroundings and measure movements, or the stress in a material, to warn us if danger lies ahead.

I’m ever hopeful such systems will be able to “listen” to my golf swing and help me course correct so I can play more target golf!

4) Taste: Digital taste buds will help you to eat smarter. What if we could make healthy foods taste delicious using a different kind of computing system built for creativity? IBM researchers are developing a computing system that actually experiences flavor, to be used with chefs to create the most tasty and novel recipes. It will break down ingredients to their molecular level and blend the chemistry of food compounds with the psychology behind what flavors and smells humans prefer.

By comparing this with millions of recipes, the system will be able to create new flavor combinations that pair, for example, roasted chestnuts with other foods such as cooked beetroot, fresh caviar, and dry-cured ham.

“Top Tasting Computer Chefs,” anyone?

5) Smell: Computers will have a sense of smell. During the next five years, tiny sensors embedded in your computer or cell phone will detect if you’re coming down with a cold or other illness. By analyzing odors, biomarkers and thousands of molecules in someone’s breath, doctors will have help diagnosing and monitoring the onset of ailments such as liver and kidney disorders, asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy by detecting which odors are normal and which are not.

Already, IBM scientists are sensing environment conditions to preserve works of art, and this innovation is starting to be applied to tackle clinical hygiene, one of the biggest healthcare challenges today. In the next five years, IBM technology will “smell” surfaces for disinfectants to determine whether rooms have been sanitized. Using novel wireless mesh networks, data on various chemicals will be gathered and measured by sensors, and continuously learn and adapt to new smells over time.

Watch the video below to listen to IBM scientists describe some of these new innovations and their potential impact on our world.

Written by turbotodd

December 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm

40 Responses

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  1. Nice blog! Thanks for sharing your innovation!


    December 31, 2012 at 10:22 pm

  2. What amazing ideas and a real neat post

    Stephen Liddell

    December 31, 2012 at 11:00 pm

  3. Cool. And I bet that the way these technologies are used as part of the way we interact and communicate will be very different from the way we imagine they might be at this stage. The intersection between technology and society seems to pan out in unusual directions more often than not, and it is only with hindsight that we realise that the way things happened was probably obvious.

    Matthew Wright

    December 31, 2012 at 11:10 pm

  4. My family is waiting for Smellevision.


    January 1, 2013 at 12:17 am

  5. Hi Turbo Todd,

    Thank you for turbo-charging our vision and dream of the cybernatically enhanced existence in the near future!

    SoundEagle would like to consider not only sensory enhancement but also the quality and longevity of lives, and not just human lives. Each year, so many trees are logged and made into Christmas trees for decoration, and so many fresh flowers are cut only to fade within days or weeks. I simply resort to decorating, once and for all and as best as I can, a small artificial tree, which I keep using year after year. For the same reason, I have a lot of life-like artificial plants, flowers and leaves indoor and they could last for decades as opposed to having real flowers lasting just a few days. Could we have perpetually living artificial plants and animals so that some of us don’t have to bid farewell to short-lived pets and plants as they age and pass away?

    Similarly, I really wish that I could have some “artificial” but santient humans or robots too, something like Commander Data, the Bicentennial Man, Rachel in Blade Runner, or other advanced automata as seen in Sci-Fi movies, as long as they are free of the usual human frailties, follies, deceptions and irrationality, if not immortality. Alternatively, some benign, benevolent and understanding extra-terrestrials could be even more desirable, and could present the chance and means for intergalactic or even interuniverse travel, thus ending, transforming and transcending my meagre earth-bound, dust-to-dust ephemeral existence.

    Take us away, ET . . . . . as SoundEagle bids farewell to the Milky Way in the post http://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/soundeagles-poetry-with-enigmas-goodbye-milky-way/.


    January 1, 2013 at 12:38 am

  6. Reblogged this on Mak Peer.


    January 1, 2013 at 12:40 am

  7. I say, “Bring back the Abacus”.
    Sometimes we move too fast.
    Lets just slow down a bit and chill out.
    I feel we’re going too far with our creations of genuine imitations.





    January 1, 2013 at 1:21 am

    • I have to agree, and not just because we go too far. Think of the health problems if people don’t even have to try on clothes anymore. I feel that technology is one of the biggest health risks we have. Not to mention that as computers become more intelligent, humanity seems to be getting dumber.


      January 1, 2013 at 4:22 am

    • I agree. This stuff is scary to say the least. Computers have already damaged “humanity”. Look at how people talk to one another and otherwise interact online.

      C. R.

      January 4, 2013 at 8:49 pm

  8. This is an informative post, but I worry about how such cognitive thinking on the part of a machine might morph — over the next century or so, maybe longer — into The Terminator. Moore’s Law, which implies that computing power doubles every 18024 months, is more than just a theory. To me, the idea that by the end of this century, I can purchase a computer that, alone exceeds the brainpower of the entire human race (over 7 billion brains is a lot of power, imaging a 7 billion HP sports car [err, rocket] and it comes into some perspective).

    Though I’m not really a big on the futurist genre, there is something to be said about the fact that science fiction has, throughout history, been almost prophetic in terms of technology and innovation. Remember when rockets, lasers, even computers, were only words in a book, or farfetched plot elements in a movie? I shudder to think of what might happen, should the “technological singularity,” predicted by futurists and mathematicians, occur.

    Gladly, we are not quite there yet; giving my computer cognitive sensory input and output, however, is getting very close.


    January 1, 2013 at 4:01 am

    • Wow! Allow me an edit or two:
      Moore’s Law, which implies that computing power doubles every 18-24 months, still holds, though some suggest the trend is flattening. To me, the idea that by the end of this century, I can purchase a computer that, alone, exceeds the brainpower of the entire human race (over 7 billion brains is a lot of power, imaging a 7 billion HP sports car [err, rocket] and it comes into some perspective) is not only mind-boggling, but also a bit scary. Do I really want my computer to have so much ability to think?


      January 1, 2013 at 4:04 am

      • Dendschmidt, you’ll like this TDX videoclip of the author Turkle on her book: “Lonely Together” –how too much reliance on social media and mobile devices can impact some our personal face to face relationships in a negative way. http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html She talks about the advantages too. Her talk does touch upon some alerts concerning robotic humans : they cannot replace loneliness, dynamic uncontrolled conversations. It’s great viewing for 2013!!


        January 1, 2013 at 3:56 pm

  9. As always reading this today it seems impossible and yet in 5 years time we shall accept it as normal. Amazing!


    January 1, 2013 at 11:27 am

  10. Great idea…..


    January 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm

  11. Reblogged this on Bill's Blog and commented:
    IBM’s futurist view for 5 thing that may change us in the next 5 years.

    Think about 5 years ago – no ipad/tablets, iphone just released

    A lot can change in 5 years!


    January 1, 2013 at 3:52 pm

  12. Definitely alot can change in 5 years and this post just gave us the heads up…. nice post!


    January 1, 2013 at 4:26 pm

  13. Reblogged this on Blog.Cripperz.SG – WordPress.


    January 1, 2013 at 4:26 pm

  14. Reblogged this on colleen e. kennedy and commented:
    Sensible Computer Design!

    colleen e kennedy

    January 1, 2013 at 4:48 pm

  15. Reblogged this on "Les Mots" To Go! and commented:
    This is pretty cool. Interesting to think about the possibilities these innovations would provide. But I’m also worried to enter into a new era where our society is even more reliant on technology- I don’t want to live to see a real-life WALL-E situation.

    Bev Herscovitch

    January 2, 2013 at 2:39 am

  16. […] Ooh Ooh That Smell — IBM’s 2012 “5 in 5″: Innovations Of The Senses. […]

  17. Really enjoyed this post – Ty for sharing 🙂 not sure about the touch or smell aspects of the techno innovations lol!


    January 2, 2013 at 8:43 am

  18. well, awesome post.. dude !!

    Ashraf Kamal

    January 2, 2013 at 10:21 am

  19. Very well written. Cool man..


    January 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm

  20. Reblogged this on abhinavsingh03's Blog and commented:
    Awesome Facts….


    January 2, 2013 at 2:58 pm

  21. Reblogged this on thewordpressghost and commented:

    TurboTodd reviewed IBM’s 5 in 5 list. They are predicting what will change the way we live and work.

    I did not even know IBM was working on this.

    Ironically, there are so many more important things than those listed, BUT these things will SELL …. any one of the list would sell like the iPhone, or iPad did if the price point is reasonable ….

    What do you think will change the world?



    January 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm

  22. […] has a really great article about how computers will soon make use of the five senses. I’d sure be excited to feel […]

  23. Reblogged this on Klutz Diaries and commented:
    I can just imagine how ‘sensuous’ that would be! *dreamy sigh*


    January 3, 2013 at 8:37 am

  24. Bring them on! lol


    January 3, 2013 at 10:48 am

  25. […] via Ooh Ooh That Smell — IBM’s 2012 “5 in 5?: Innovations Of The Senses « Turbotodd. […]

  26. I work for a company http://www.playgroundentertainmentgroup.com and we try to engage children through social media and gaming to get them to become more active. I wonder how this technology would enhance our ability to reach a broader audience? The applications seem endless and exciting.


    January 3, 2013 at 6:50 pm

  27. Hear me, o great computer… hear the rising irritation in my voice, note the throbbing vessel in my forehead, feel the increase in body temperature, and tell me, please, how to resolve my software compatibility problems!

    Maximum Know-How

    January 3, 2013 at 7:18 pm

  28. Um, regarding your title — you ARE aware of the lyrics of that song’s chorus, aren’t you? Not sure if that’s exactly what you intended to portray….

    The Walrus

    January 4, 2013 at 10:30 pm

  29. Reblogged this on Pier Carlo Lava.


    January 5, 2013 at 11:55 am

  30. This is awesomely awesome!!


    January 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm

  31. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.


    January 6, 2013 at 4:01 pm

  32. […] Ooh Ooh That Smell — IBM’s 2012 “5 in 5″: Innovations Of The Senses. […]

  33. […] Ooh Ooh That Smell — IBM’s 2012 “5 in 5″: Innovations Of The Senses. […]

  34. I just nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. I think your blog is bad ass. http://fifty5cents.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/versatile-blogger-award-me/


    January 14, 2013 at 4:22 pm

  35. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing this post with us. It’s really an amazing post. Keep posting the good work in future too.


    March 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm

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