I’ve been a long time wanna-be chef who recently has been cooking with IBM’s Watson supercomputer as my sous chef and it has been mind-blowing. Let’s take a second to just reflect on that sentence because I’ve been cooking – with a super computer. It sounds like a sequel to the Spike Jonze movie ‘Her’ but int his case science fiction has become a reality thanks to IBM and Bon Appetite giving me Beta access to their new Beta venue Chef Watson.
IBM’s cognitive computing system that beat two reigning champions on the ‘Jeopardy!’ has partners with Bon Appetite magazine to learn everything it can about food. Watson has been studying recipes and learning about ingredient combinations which it can cross references with data about the flavor compounds found in ingredients and psychological information about people’s likes and dislikes to produce a data model of how the human palette will respond to all of those combinations. The rest of us call that end result a recipe.
Cooking with Watson is an interactive, web-based experience where the simple interface really undersells the power of what can be created. You start the process by telling Watson the ingredients you do or do now included in your dish and what type of dish you want to create. You can then tell Watson what style of dish you want to create like ‘low sodium’, ‘easy’, make ahead’ or even ‘bridal shower’. Based on these different type of inputs Watson will then generate hundreds of unique recipes for you to choose from. For those of us who love to cook having access to something like this is like having an interactive version of the all-time greatest episode of Iron Chef. As a cook, I really like this interface and way of capturing data but I do wish that there was the ability to also add technique to the list so I could add parameters like ‘grilling’, ‘smoking’ or more exotic techniques like ‘sous vide’.
My biggest take away from my brief time cooking with Watson is that this represents that dawn of something new and amazing in consumer-facing technology. Up until now so many consumer experiences with sites like Google or digital personal assistants like Siri have been nothing more than the ways to presenting existing data. What Chef Watson is doing is CREATING new content. That is a profound and meaningful difference for what consumers can come to expect from a digital experience and for digital designers like me will start to think about creating an interactive experience that are unlike anything we have ever created before.
Now I have to get back to deciding if I want to cook a Belgian Bacon Pudding or a Peruvian Potato Poutine.