IBM’s Watson Computing System Becomes Culinary Inventor

IBM’s Watson Computing System, best known for its 2011 run on Jeopardy, is once again making a name for itself — as a culinary inventor.

According to the Washington Times, Watson and his team of chefs served a six course tasting menu this week at South by South West, the famous film and music festival in Austin, Texas. The chefs consult with Watson by inputting the type of cuisine they want and the main ingredient — such as a Cajun lobster soup — and Watson comes up with several possible combinations using a multitude of other ingredients. Often, the complimentary ingredients Watson provides are unusual in some respect, but all of his dishes so far have turned out well. The computer uses reams of computational data on human perception and food chemistry to come up with creative dishes such as Kenyan Brussels sprouts with sweet potato puree.

Watson’s culinary inventions may sound new and strange, but that’s the point. In Computational Creativity, Mahmoud Naghshineh, VP at IBM, explains that the project is designed “…for the machine to work with chefs to put together new recipes that has[sic] never been put together before.” Creativity, after all, has often been considered the hallmark of human thinking, and something that computers usually lack. IBM hopes to revolutionize entire industries with Watson by adding such creative components along with the computer processing power that surpasses human ability. When it comes to food, Watson outperforms a human chef’s ability to think about multiple ingredients at once. Dr. Lav Varshney, research scientist at IBM, explains, “Most professional chefs are good at reasoning about pairs of ingredients. Some of the best chefs can reason about three ingredients. But pretty much no human can reason about four ingredients.”

Watson has also been busy offering new services on the cloud, helping deliver more meaningful data analytics and helping users share data in creative ways. From Jeopardy to data analysis, what makes Watson different from other computers is its natural language processing analytics, a way of processing data that is more akin to how people think. This means that Watson can understand and answer complex questions with speed and accuracy. Since its debut, Watson has been reduced to the size of three pizza boxes and is 24 times faster. According to IBM, 760 developers have submitted applications to work with Watson, including MD Buylines, who will help hospitals procure devices with Watson’s help.

And if that’s not impressive enough, Watson had once learned to swear. The programmers had trouble teaching Watson the difference between polite and impolite language and have since installed filters. So, if you order the creamy Czech pork belly moussaka created by Watson and his team at this week’s show, it won’t come with a helping of colorful language.

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