Your smartphone can already take pictures, but can it truly understand what it sees? That next step could be here sooner than you think, according to IBM, which predicts that cognitive computing — in which computers learn from the world around them — will make a huge difference in our lives in just five years.

Cognitive computing will allow computing devices — everything from home computers to smartphones and all manner of other devices — to interact with the world. IBM had five of its top researchers look at the future of the five senses and predict how our computing devices will interact with the world a few years from now.

Take the sense of touch, for example. What if you were shopping for a sweater online and wanted to know how it felt? Before too long, your smartphone might be able to mimic that texture and allow you to remotely touch any object without actually being in its presence, according to Robyn Schwartz, associate director of IBM Research Retail Analytics.

Or what about smell? With thinking, aware computers, simple sensors on a smartphone could "smell" a person's breath and look for biomarkers that would indicate diabetes or tuberculosis, according to IBM Research's Dr. Hendrik F. Hamann. Information would instantly be transmitted to a doctor, speeding up diagnoses and saving money in the process.

Taste? Yes, indeed. According to IBM research scientist Dr. Lav Varshney, a computer could mix up a recipe that would both taste great and contain the nutrients you need. This would help fight obesity in the U.S. and malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. As Varshney writes, "Many communities in sub-Saharan Africa only have access to a few base ingredients for any given meal. But limited resources should not eliminate the enjoyment of food. A creative computer can optimize flavor profiles within these constraints, creating a variety of never thought of meals that please the palate, encourages consumption, and helps prevent malnutrition."

You can learn more about these five future cognitive computing technologies in this IBM-produced video:

IBM has also posted videos for all five senses, and is asking you to vote to say which of these senses you think will first appear on our computers.

How likely is all of this to come true? IBM has been posting its predictions every year since 2006, and so far quite a few of them have come true. We'll see how this year's batch compares around the year 2017.

Related post on MNN: 5 things your brain does better than a computer

IBM predicts computers that will smell, taste, see, hear and touch
Cognitive computing will dramatically change our daily lives in just 5 years, say IBM experts