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The future 5, Part 3: Smell

In the next five years, computers will begin to mimic and augment the senses. Through this week, IBM outlines five upcoming advances that will change our world. In Part 1, we explore the future of Smell.

In the future, your cell phone will know you’re sick before you do.

Over the next five years, tiny sensors embedded in your computer or cell phone will detect if you’re coming down with a cold or illness. By analyzing odors, biomarkers or the thousands of molecules in someone’s breath, doctors will have help diagnosing and monitoring the onset of many ailments such as liver and kidney disorders, asthma, diabetes and epilepsy by detecting which odors are normal and which are not.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and infectious diseases like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are just one type of dangerous bacteria commonly found on the skin and easily contracted in places like gyms, schools and hospitals where people are in close contact. In 2005, MRSA was responsible for nearly 95,000 serious infections, and associated with almost 19,000 hospital stay-related deaths in the United States. Today, IBM scientists are already sensing environmental conditions and gases to preserve works of art and are now extending these techniques to tackle one of the biggest challenges in healthcare clinical hygiene.

One way of fighting these infections is making sure medical staff is following clinical hygiene guidelines. The IBM technology will ‚’smell’ for cleanliness including whether rooms have been cleaned, if someone is compliant with hygiene regulations, by identifying chemicals such as the volatile organic compounds found in disinfectants. Using novel wireless mesh networks the data on various chemicals will be gathered by sensors and measured by cognitive computers that can handle complex data and apply algorithms to pinpoint areas that need attention.

Because of the rapid development in sensor and communication technologies in combination with the advent of deep learning systems we’re now able to place sensors and measure data in places we never thought possible. For example, the same technology can be used in agriculture to ‚’smell’ or analyze the soil condition of crops. In urban environments, this technology will be used to monitor issues with refuge, sanitation and pollution helping city agencies spot potential problems before they get out of hand.


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