IBM Watson provides Big Data backing for the culinary art

By March 13, 2014
food truck IBM

IBM’s supercomputer Watson has now found its way into the kitchen, or almost. Some of its innovative cooking ideas were put in front of diners for the first time on the sidelines of the South by South West (SXSW) tech event, held on March 7-16 in Austin, Texas.

Watson, the ‘cognitive computing’ system created by IBM a few years ago, is able to store and crunch large amounts of data very fast, which means it can answer all kinds of questions and carry out a range of Big Data statistical analyses. In 2011 Watson made headlines when it single-handedly defeated former champions of the popular US TV quiz show Jeopardy at their own game. Then in 2013 the artificial intelligence machine was adapted to the health sector and brought in to help teach medical students how to diagnose patient conditions and find remedies faster. Now in the latest move, the champion data cruncher has been recruited to come up with culinary delights. Its ‘Cognitive Cooking’ approach is designed to create innovative recipes. IBM estimates that it could generate turnover of some $20 billion dollars by 2015 from Watson’s range of applications, together with the company’s other Big Data initiatives.

Data-driven cookery innovations

IBM Watson joined forces with the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) to develop its cookery project. The supercomputer sifted through over 30,000 recipes plus a great deal of other data on chemistry, culture and consumer food preferences. Using all this information Watson is now able to invent recipes that have never before been tested – or even thought of. Among the recipes put together by Watson and cooked by James Briscione, the Director of Culinary Development at ICE, are a Spanish croissant with a base of cocoa, saffron, black pepper, almonds and honey; and a yellow cocktail which contains vanilla, turmeric, bourbon, lemon and banana. Based on all the collected information on taste, smell, majority preferences, etc, Watson’s concoctions have at least a statistical likelihood of meeting with the approval of the consumers.

Meeting the future challenges facing the food industry

The Cognitive Cooking project, which requires man and machine to work together is not only about innovating in terms of novel combinations of ingredients and flavors. It also provides a scientific basis for addressing such important considerations as nutritional value, availability of ingredients, seasonal/macrobiotic aspects of cooking and sustainable food production. Certain foodstuffs are of course more available than others at certain times of the year, and the amount of energy required to produce different foods makes them more – or less – sustainable from an environmental point of view. Watson’s cognitive computing capability will enable it to take all these aspects into account when putting recipes together, ultimately helping to resolve some environmental issues and perhaps to reduce global food insecurity. If you would like to try your hand at the recipes unveiled at SXSW, go to hashtag #IBMFoodTruck on Twitter.

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