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The Senses Left Behind

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We’re all taught that there are 5 senses. Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell and Taste.

The truth is there, there are a few more like the senses of Temperature, Pain, Position, Balance and Vibration. There are, as I mentioned, several others as well.

The tech industry has to a large extent replicated most of these senses using computers in the last 50 years.

We have Sight through Cameras. Sound through microphones. Touch through touch screens. Temperature Sensors for heat, Gyroscopes, Accelerometers for balance.

For pain, there are pressure sensors. For position, a combination of the previous sensors and a level of intelligence.

Now, it’s important the difference between ‘seeing’ and understanding what we see.

This is why concepts like image processing have evolved through years of research. Likewise, for sound, we have audio signal processing.

These concepts are at an advanced stage now and the benefits of these are visible through the applications that we use in our daily lives. There are analogous concepts like these for the other senses as well.

Right now, we not only have the ability to hear, we also have the ability to transmit sound using our device. This implies that we have two communication using most of these senses. There’s also research going on to develop more senses that we currently might not have.

The current achievements of the technology industry in this domain are phenomenal, to say the least.

But, I’d like to present what hasn’t been done yet.

IBM publishes a list of 5 innovations that will change our lives in 5 years, every year. In 2012, IBM predicted that computers will have all 5 of the traditional senses by the end of 2017. We’re in the second half of 2016, which leaves us with 18 months to get there.

From the looks of it, we might come up short.

We’ve been able to create sensors for specific smells built for specific use cases. We don’t quite have one that works for everything.

Towards the end of 2014, IBM reported that they’d developed a chip that could

“sense, taste, feel, smell, hear and understand its surroundings.”The most recent public ‘push’ for this came in the form of a prank by Google in 2013 — Google Nose. Apart from this, work is being done using Olfactometers and Electronic noses, but, we’re not quite there yet.

The best indicator that an advance in this regard is in the offing came from a company called Honeywell in 2013. Honeywell reported in October 2013 that they’d developed the world first MEMS Vacuum pump.

Honeywell works with DARPA to conduct its research and mentioned in the report that they expected devices to carry these censors over the next decade. That remains the only bright spot on this matter from what I can see.

The other side of the problem still remains completely unsolved though. We still don’t have the ability to transmit smell, which from a basic reading of the matter leads me to think it might even be unsolvable.

Perhaps we’ll end up developing a different way to receive smell that isn’t quite natural.

There are several loose ends and no answers on this front.

But, so far, it seems like these senses have been left behind.