IBM’s Chef Watson Tackles the Fourth of July
For some people, baking comes easily. I am not one of those people. If we were to draw a Venn diagram of “People who have produced a recognizable baked product from their own oven on more than one occasion” and “Deb,” the circles would not even be touching.
My friends know this, yet they always turn to me when we plan potluck get-togethers. They ask, “Why don’t you bring dessert?” I invariably forget my lack of baking prowess and gush, “What a great idea! I’ll just whip something up!”
It’s like “Groundhog Day,” but with more sugar and butter.
This Fourth of July I’m determined to be ready. I’m on dessert duty again (“I’ll just whip something up!”) and I wanted to come up with something that would not be an epic fail on the order of the “Nailed It” meme.
As luck would have it, IBM Research has taught its famous Watson computer how to cook. It doesn’t literally do the cooking, of course; that would be even more of a disaster, as Watson lacks opposable thumbs. What they have been doing for years is teaching Watson natural language processing (which is the way we communicate) and also about flavor pairings. They have named this project “Chef Watson.”
What’s relatively new is that IBM has paired up with Bon Appétit magazine to produce an app that will create a recipe from a few human-supplied variables, like a main ingredient, the type of dish the cook would like, and how “classic” or “experimental” the cook would like the recipe to be. It’s still in beta testing, but you can be considered for the pilot program by clicking here and taking a short survey about your recipe-reading habits.
They’ve also loaded more than 9,000 recipes from the magazine’s archives into Watson so it can search them for ideas while it’s trying to decide what kind of cheese would pair best with your pickled nectarines. Watson can be very creative in the way it runs its algorithms.
Given my previous lack of success at creating edible baked items, Chef Watson sounds like a godsend. Clearly, I could turn my baking woes over to Chef Watson and let it lead me to culinary glory. What could possibly go wrong?
Scene: July 3. My kitchen.
Let’s say I log in to Chef Watson on my tablet and ask it about baking a red, white, and blue cake. I’d like to frost it with vanilla frosting and decorate the top with red, white, and blue fruit.