I must confess to loving cookery programs, my favourite being the various MasterChef series. What fascinates me is how professional chefs can look at the most bizarre ingredients and invent incredible dishes. Yet they have nothing on the IBM supercomputer, which can come up with a quintillion ways of combining ingredients; a quintillion being and one followed by 18 zeroes.
The supercomputer named Watson analyzed around 35,000 existing recipes and 1,000 chemical flavour compunds. This allows it to make an educated guess at the food creations that will not just taste good, but also be unique; producing dishes that have never before been made or even thought of.
IBM has been working for about two years to get Watson to the point where it is today. “Creativity is the crowning achievement of human intelligence,” says Steven Abrams, director of the Watson group. “Can we make a computer be creative?”
Although Watson may be creative, it still requires humans to give it a hand in the kitchen. So for example, a human needs to input information such as ingredients, regions and types of dish before the supercomputer chef can give a list of ingredients that will make up a recipe. The system usually puts together around twelve to fourteen ingredients and rates the recipe depending on how well matched the flavour combinations are, how unique it is and how it thinks the end result will taste and smell. In the future the researchers hope that Watson will be able to give instructions on how to put the ingredients together.
The unfortunate thing for Watson is that human chefs have pretty much done almost everything that can be done with food, so although the combinations it creates can be great, often that’s because it is similar what has already been made. But as the IBM researchers point out, the supercomputer hasn’t been designed to replace chefs.
Cognitive computing systems that can learn and adapt to various situations rather than execute programs will be very useful covering a variety of areas like finance and healthcare. IBM firmly belives that Watson can change the world as we know it.