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Sensing the Future: IBM’s 5 in 5

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January is a great a month for thinking about the future. The old year is over and a new one is about to unfold. We naturally start to look out at new horizons from the perspective of a new year. January’s also a great time to publish new predictions, new thoughts, new visions.

Here’s an interesting new vision of part of the future from IBM Research. It’s part of their “5 in 5” series: a prediction of five innovations that will change our lives in five years. This year, it’s the five senses in focus. Specifically, IBM researchers see computers/technology being able to see, touch, hear, taste and smell, as well as enhance the way we sense, in about five years.

Here’s the 5 in 5 overview video:

From the overview video, you can navigate to the other videos in the series.

If you have ever read about the complexities the human brain manages in receiving and processing sensory stimuli, or have ever worked on or read about efforts to develop artificial analogs, you know that the processing power required in handling sensory data is huge. Yet we are beginning to develop the computing speed and depth to manage large data sets and perhaps also to fully contextualize such complex data.

Of course, some of what the IBM folks predict includes not just sensory processing for machines, but also sensory enhancements for human beings. Inevitably, we are on a trajectory to converge with our technology.

The technology is exciting, and the applications many, and interesting old questions are raised: if perception is reality, what reality will computers assemble from their sensory data, once they are sophisticated enough to put it together? We go back then to some of the most fundamental issues of western philosophy when we pursue such questions. What is the distinction between perception and reality? What is the difference between consciousness and the aggregate gestalt of our senses? Similarly, what might we begin to see and be when we can see and be more, when we transcend our biological limitations?

It appears, according to IBM, we won’t have long to wait for answers.

Author: Eric Kingsbury

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