On the retail front, this sort of technology will enable companies to glean from photos posted to Facebook and Pinterest what specific products and promotions to market at users. In a similar vein, the technology could be used by public-safety organizations and utility companies during disasters. "Photos of severe storms -- and the damage they cause, such as fires or electrical outages -- uploaded to the Web could help electrical utilities and local emergency services to determine in real time what's happening, what the safety conditions are and where to send crews," Smith wrote.
IBM Master Inventor Dimitri Kanevsky, meanwhile, described how computers over the next five years will be capable of understanding sounds, thanks to algorithms embedded in cognitive systems. "Some of my colleagues and I patented a way to take the data from typical baby sounds, collected at different ages by monitoring brain, heart and lung activity, to interpret how babies feel," he wrote. "Soon, a mother will be able to translate her baby's cries in real time into meaningful phrases, via a baby monitor or smartphone."
What's more, systems using sound-gathering sensors will be able to monitor the environment, such as determining that a tree might be on the brink of toppling over during a storm based on the sounds it's making.
Kanevsky also described a theoretical device capable of hearing ultrasonic frequencies and translating, say, dolphin or dog chatter. A smartphone, associated with an ultrasonic system, could turn the speaker's voice into an ultrasonic frequency that cuts through sounds in the room to be delivered to, and retranslated for only the recipient of the message, he wrote.
Also, computers will be capable of detecting taste over the next five years, according to Dr. Lav Varshney, research scientist for IBM Services Research. "Computers will be able to construct never-before-heard-of recipes to delight palates -- even those with health or dietary constraints -- using foods' molecular structure," he wrote.
Varshney's team is designing a learning system that adds creativity to cognitive computing. The result is a system capable of not just coming up with a fixed answer to a question but with something entirely new. "The system analyzes foods in terms of how chemical compounds interact with each other, the number of atoms in each compound, and the bonding structure and shapes of compounds," he wrote. "Coupled with psychophysical data and models on which chemicals produce perceptions of pleasantness, familiarity and enjoyment, the end result is a unique recipe, using combinations of ingredients that are scientifically flavorful."
Finally, Dr. Hendrik F. Hamann, research manager of physical analytics for IBM Research, wrote that within the next five years, mobile devices will likely be able to tell you you're getting a cold before your very first sneeze through a computer version of smell.
"Tiny sensors that 'smell' can be integrated into cell phones and other mobile devices, feeding information contained on the biomarkers to a computer system that can analyze the data," he wrote. "Similar to how a breathalyzer can detect alcohol from a breath sample, sensors can be designed to collect other specific data from the biomarkers. Potential applications could include identifying liver and kidney disorders, diabetes, and tuberculosis, among others."
This article, "IBM's next revolution: Computers that see, smell, hear, and taste," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.