The Many Talents of the IBM Watson Supercomputer
IBM’s Watson Supercomputer has won Jeopardy in the US, is looking for cures for cancer and now also wants to create new and interesting recipes. The supercomputer also has a new role using internet databases as a business consultant and analyst.
In 2011, Watson defeated opponents on the human quiz show Jeopardy and since then has been working on a number of other services. The Watson Engagement Advisor application helps military members and their families return to civilian life after leaving the service. In addition, Watson has worked with Arria in the oil and gas sector to help improve the management of leaks in refineries, which can cost oil companies billions of dollars. Leaks are also bad for the environment as well as the revenues of large companies.
What’s more, IBM is helping to develop care in 14 treatment centers in the US for genetic cancer cases that are hard to treat. Working with health insurance companies, IBM has partnered with Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic, a medical device creator, to help monitor patients with diabetes. Watson is also working with banking firms to help compare investments.
Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM’s Watson division has said that Watson’s technology can be applied ‘anywhere where large amounts of information exist’ and that we now generate more data than we consume. Last year it was announced that IBM plans to invest $1 billion in the Watson division and has had help from almost 20 business sectors who already see the potential for new applications for the supercomputer. Elemental Path, a creator of smart toys, has already teamed up with Watson to create a dinosaur toy that can answer children’s questions effectively and tell stories too.
Recently Watson has been getting the most attention for culinary applications. It can analyse data to imagine new food combinations and blends of flavours. By using a ‘flavour pairing theory’ that bases itself on chemical compounds, Watson mixes computing and cuisine to produce things like a bacon and mushroom desert that was served at a New York event. Watson can also suggest new combinations for a dish or recipe that it is given, such as the chocolate-beef burrito it created when given the idea of a burrito.
Thousands of recipes from ‘Bon Appetit magazine have been programmed into the supercomputer and it can check these against its knowledge of foods’ chemical properties. If two foods are suggested as a combination by Watson, it is because chemical bonds are shared by the food types. James Briscione of the Institute of Culinary Education has talked of how Watson selects particular ingredients for dishes because they “pair well together” and that every dish is a “combination of ingredients that nobody has ever seen before”.
As well as the chocolate-beef burrito, Watson has also suggested a recipe for duck including olives, cherries, ginger, fennel, apple, celery and mushrooms. While humans can imagine and process a few flavour combinations, Watson comes up with much more complex pairings. Using its knowledge of recipes, chemical properties of food and nutritional information from the Department of Agriculture, the computer can suggest recipes such as Vietnamese kebabs with pork, apple, chicken, strawberries, pineapple and mushrooms when given three starting ideas- kebabs, Vietnam and apple.
IBM and the Institute of Culinary Education hope that Chef Watson will be able to help devise new recipes for people with restricted diets, such as those with gluten or dairy intolerance. In April, the cookbook Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson was published, showcasing some of the best recipes the computer helped to develop. Bon Appetit magazine has partnered with IBM to create a Chef Watson web app which helps home chefs to use up ingredients in their fridge while taking advantage of unusual combinations created through computing power.
For the future, Watson looks set to help with everything from education and health care in Africa to aiding retailers in providing better customer service. The number of applications available for Watson and the large amounts of information it can analyse are staggering. Smartphone and web apps that take advantage of its powers in new and interesting ways are currently being developed, so expect to hear more from IBM’s Watson, that is, if you aren’t already eating meals that Chef Watson has developed for you.