1. SIGHT: Image recognition. Asking computers to look at a library of thousands of images could help a machine do what a human does intuitively. Forest scenes, for example, have a different distribution of colors than a cityscape. Once the computer learns what a forest is supposed to look like, a programmer will show it thousands of pictures of people doing something like hiking or picnicking. That way a computer can start to understand what a scene should look like without needing tags in the image.
If computers could recognize images in this way, then they can pick out what matters in them - an important point if one is aggregating security camera video or using imaging devices to diagnose disease.
2. SOUND: Hearing and translation. For hearing, a similar issue arises: picking out what matters. Here computers are already pretty good, as speech recognition software has made a debut on our phones with apps such as Siri. But the same kind of pattern-learning systems could be applied to sounds as well as vision, and result in computers that can, for instance, understand baby-talk - and maybe even analyze your mood by the tone of your voice. Wouldn't it be great if those customer service robots knew how annoyed you were?
3. TASTE: Flavor breakdown. Then there is taste. Designing a computer that can experience flavor can break down foods and understand why it is that some things taste good. That in turn can help chefs design nutritious food or come up with that perfect pairing of food and wine. (With any luck IBM will do better than the Nutrimatic).
I, For One, Welcome Our New Computer Overlords
4. SMELL: Sensing dangerous chemicals. Computers could also learn to smell, picking up on gases that no human being would be able to detect. Breathalyzers can already pick up the alcohol content of your blood, but imagine one that could tell you if you had a kidney ailment or cancer. A machine that could pick up explosives or drugs the way dogs do would be very useful in port security - and possibly put the K-9 units out of work.
5. TOUCH: Feeling from afar. Haptics already allow us to get some feedback - there's a hand that transmits pressure, video games that transmit vibrations and touch screens let us control our devices. Take that one step further and you could actually feel the fabric of a suit on a clothing store's website - no more having to go all the way there to try it on – by using the vibration capabilities of your phone. Other uses could include remote medical diagnostics or even surgery.
It's all a part of making computers more human-like and also more useful. It might even change the way we use computers as profoundly as search engines and the Internet did. Of course, the question then arises: how human do we want our computers to be?