Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

IN THE next five years, computers will translate baby talk, allowing parents to understand their wailing children. The machines will also predict natural disasters and allow consumers to feel the texture of clothing items bought online, according to IBM.

Each December, IBM releases "The Next 5 in 5" — the IT company’s predictions of innovations that will change people’s lives in the next five years.

Previous predictions included biometric passwords, cellphone wallets and banking, and that technologies the size of atoms would address the world’s environmental problems.

"In the next age of computing … hardware and software will gain amazing new human brain-like capabilities to learn, adapt and sense — ( and) fundamentally improve the way people live, work and interact together," Bernie Meyerson, vice-president for innovation at IBM, said on Monday.

"IBM examines market and societal trends expected to transform our lives."

This year’s Next 5 in 5 are based on the senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell.

The multinational technology and consulting corporation predicted that computers would begin to mimic and " augment" the human senses.

Computers will have a dictionary of textures, so "we can experientially match the physical texture of a product presented in an online shopping experience", IBM has predicted.

"These textures could be stored in a product information database and could be supplied by the manufacturer, or the retailer, or even from customers.

"By matching variable-frequency patterns of vibration to physical objects, when a shopper touches an online image of a silk shirt, the screen of their personal device will emit a vibration sequence that matches what our brain would mentally translate to the feel of a soft, easy-flowing silk," IBM speculates.

Computers will be able to sense sound pressures and waves within five years, mimicking hearing. "Computers will be able to hear … and detect the movement within a massive neighbourhood tree that may foreshadow its impending demise…. This could save lives and property," Mr Meyerson said.

"Cognitive computing" will enable parents to use their computers to tell whether their babies are crying because they are hungry, or in pain, or just because they want to be held.

Computers will "smell" within five years by sensing the presence of certain molecules. This has numerous applications such as detecting pollution or the onset of illness through "analysing the millions of molecules in your breath", IBM said.

Mr Meyerson, though, said he did not believe that computers will replace humans.

"The true success of cognitive computing will not be judged by its ability to replace the functions of the human brain," he said.

"It will be the innovations it unleashes by providing people with a better quality of life and the vital information needed to free up creative problem solving."

Research to compile the report was conducted among the company’s thousands of biologists, engineers, mathematicians and medical physicians in research laboratories around the world.