Dec 17th, 2012

Each year IBM releases its “5 in 5” list offering five technology predictions for the next five years. This year’s list focuses on the five senses and details one new technology for each. All suggest intriguing possibilities for the future of smartphones.

For smell, IBM predicts digital “noses” that can sniff out underlying medical conditions in a person’s breath. For sight, digital visioning enhancements could also have medical applications or be used to scan uploaded photographs for advertising purposes. For taste and hearing, technology could help craft foods that are maximize both nutrition and flavor or develop better hearing implants and predict the weather. Possibly most applicable to smartphones, advancements in touch screens might allow us to feel the textures we see.

An obvious use for something like touch is retail. Shoppers surfing Amazon would have a chance to actually feel the fabric of the clothes they are browsing. But the other predictions offer more outside of the box thinking.

With a digital nose, for instance, a smartphone could act as a fire alarm or carbon monoxide detector. Google could target advertising based on local scents. Is that the scent of delicious pizza wafting through the air? Here’s a Google Offer for a nearby slice shop. This, of course, is something that is likely much further down the road.

The combined digital senses could be used to aid in another IBM prediction from 2006, remote health care access. A patient could send samples and images direct from their phone to be used in crafting a diagnosis. But speaking of older predictions, it’s worth nothing that not all of IBMs guesses have panned out.

The first two 5-in-5 forecasts to pass their fifth year have been a little hit or miss. We do have access to technology like mobile wallets and advancements in driving like Google’s computer-driven cars, but we’ve missed out on the 3D internet and reliable real-time speech translation.

The beginnings of several of IBM’s predictions for this year already exist, but even with rapidly advancing computer and mobile tech it’s hard to imagine something like a smartphone display that can simulate textures on the fly arriving within the next five years. Still, it’s fun to imagine what the world will be like when such a technology inevitably debuts.

[IBM via Slate]

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