Twenty years ago, computers were found in a limited number of households. People still used phone books to find the local businesses they needed and photo albums were the closest thing the world had to Facebook. When you think of how far we’ve come in the past two decades, it’s easy to fantasize about how far we’ll go in the next twenty years.

Well, IBM wasn’t quite ambitious enough to predict where computer technology will be twenty years in the future. But they did highlight five innovations that will change our lives in the next five years. And they sure are interesting.

Five ways the world of computers will change over the next five years, according to IBM:

5) Computers will be able to simulate the touch and feel of different objects

How cool would it be to feel a silky Egyptian cotton sheet before you buy it from a website? According to IBM, future technology will be able to simulate the physical sensation of touching something. These simulated sensations will be created using a smartphone’s touchscreen technology as well as its vibrating haptic feedback system.

Of course, a simulated touch system would also open up some interesting options for the adult entertainment industry.

4) Computers will get better at visual recognition

This prediction is probably the most obvious one on the list. IBM predicts that computers will get smarter visually, which means they will be able to pinpoint recognizable faces in a big crowd or spot a tiny bit of diseased tissue in an MRI. This technology could save lives.

3) Computers will get better at audio recognition

This is another fairly obvious prediction. Computers will get smarter at hearing sounds, recognizing patterns, and pinpointing at exactly which point in time that tree feel in those woods. As IBM explains, “machine hearing and speech recognition could even be sensitive enough to advance dialogue across languages and cultures.”

2) Computers will simulate the taste of food

This prediction is very cool. It argues that computers will become so good at analyzing flavors and tastes that people will be able to come up with a palate of their perfect flavors. Then, they’ll be able to create a personalized menu of those flavors that is not only perfectly delicious, but also meets all of their nutritional requirements. Peanut butter-bacon-rum-and-coke vegetables, anyone?

1) Computers will be able to smell you

I think this prediction is creepy. But it’s certainly feasible. This prediction argues that phones, computers, and other technology will come with built-in smell sensors. These sensors will detect your odor, but more importantly, they could be used to detect certain odors that indicate unhealthy molecules which lead to deadly diseases. It could also improve the air in cities or warn people of dangerous air quality before it becomes obvious.

As you probably noticed, there was a distinctive theme to IBM’s list this year. And that theme was that computers will basically be an extension of our senses.

But hey, at least those breathalyzer apps would be a lot more accurate.

Past Five in Five predictions

IBM actually makes this ‘Five in Five’ list every year. Some notable predictions from 2006 and 2007 include:

-It will be easy to be green and save money doing it

-Your cell phone will be your wallet, ticket broker, concierge, bank, shopping buddy, and more (this one definitely came true)

-Real time speech translation will become the norm

-Doctors will have enhanced super-senses to better diagnose and treat you (I don’t know about this one)

To view a list of all the Five in Five lists IBM has ever created, click here.

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