IBM: I Have Seen the Future And It Works
January 21, 2013 Dan Burger
It’s quite a ride from the era of the common man to the era of cognitive systems, but get on board, the Big Blue train is leaving the station.
IBM has some fun each year, and creates a little publicity buzz, by mixing budding technologies with market and social trends to whip up what it calls the “IBM Five in Five.” That is, the selection of five innovations made possible by computing and chosen because of their potential to change–within five years–the way humans work and play. According to IBM, we are about to enter the era of cognitive systems. You’ll recognize when we arrive because computers will mimic the human senses–sight, smell, touch, taste, and hear. By enhancing our senses, computers will help us think more clearly and therefore make better informed decisions.
“IBM scientists around the world are collaborating on advances that will help computers make sense of the world around them,” said Bernie Meyerson, IBM Fellow and VP of innovation in a statement released by IBM. “Just as the human brain relies on interacting with the world using multiple senses, by bringing combinations of these breakthroughs together, cognitive systems will bring even greater value and insights, helping us solve some of the most complicated challenges.”
Here are the Five in Five sensory predictions from the “Smarter Planet” people.
Touch–Retail, healthcare, and other sectors will use haptic (based on the sense of touch), infrared, and pressure-sensitive technologies to simulate touch. Utilizing the vibration capabilities of the phone, every object will have a unique set of vibration patterns that represents the touch experience: short and fast patterns, or longer and stronger vibrations. For instance, the vibration pattern will differentiate silk from linen or cotton, helping simulate the physical sensation of actually touching the material. Look but do not touch signs will become obsolete.
Sight–The computer on your desk, or tucked in your briefcase, or glued to the palm of your hand is practically a dumb terminal compared with what is coming soon. Systems will not only be able to recognize images and visual data, they will make sense out of it similar to the way a human views and interprets a photograph. “Brain-like” capabilities will analyze features such as color or texture patterns or even factors that are subtle or invisible to the human eye and require careful measurement. Extracting insights from visual media could be put to use in healthcare by making sense out medical information such as MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, and ultrasound images to capture information tailored to a particular anatomy or pathologies. Would it be possible, though, to make sense out of Rocky V?
Hearing— Sound detection sensors capable of measuring sound pressure, vibrations, and sound waves at different frequencies will soon be listening to our surroundings and measuring movements. This technology might be used for measuring the stress in a material, which could lead to danger warnings in advance of trees falling in a forest or when a landslide is imminent. “I could hear you coming a mile away” goes from exaggeration to truth.
Taste–Computers will soon use algorithms to determine the precise chemical structure of food and why people like certain tastes. These algorithms will examine how chemicals interact with each other, the molecular complexity of flavor compounds, and their bonding structure and use that information, together with models of perception, to predict the taste appeal of flavors. It could be used to make healthy foods, like broccoli, more palatable, like ice cream.
Smell–During the next five years, sensors embedded in computers or cell phones will detect colds and other illnesses. They will do this by analyzing odors, biomarkers, and thousands of molecules–sort of like a breathalyzer, if you’ve ever had one of those. The process will help doctors diagnose and monitor ailments such as liver and kidney disorders, asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy. (I think I already know what flu smells like.)