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Technouvelle cuisine: Turkish bruschetta, madam?

Wednesday, 29 January, 2014

Turkish delight IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997 and its Watson computer defeated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on the US quiz show Jeopardy! in 2011. Thanks to the evolving ability of its machines to interpret large datasets, IBM continues to develop within the industry it has helped to define. Using big-data analytics techniques, the company’s Thomas J Watson Research Center has created extraordinary food recipes mined from resources such as Fenaroli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients, which are then tweaked by an algorithm designed to add novelty to the mix. As a result, we get concoctions like Swiss-Thai Asparagus quiche and Turkish bruschetta. Next up? Cantonese broccoli kebab and Irish brown trout bouillabaisse perhaps.

Along with exploring the potential of technouvelle cuisine, IBM is researching the market for “cognitive services” — computers that think, or appear to. The returns could be huge if it can develop artificially intelligent systems capable of answering questions posed in natural language, such as carrying out intelligent phone calls with customers. That’s why Big Blue is pouring $1 billion into Watson. According to Antonio Regalado writing in the MIT Technology Review, “the number of IBM employees working on Watson technologies, including engineers, salespeople, and consultants, will increase fourfold or fivefold to 2,000. The Watson Group will also be elevated inside IBM and report directly to the chairman and CEO, Virginia Rometty.”

But as Regalado points out, crunching cancer is going to be far more challenging for Watson than playing Jeopardy! or thinking up Creole Shrimp Dumpling.


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