August 29, 2014, 4:59 PM — When not busy helping to find new treatments for cancer, IBM Watson is helping to cook up a few new dishes as well.
To show off Watson's powers, IBM is training its cognitive computing system to suggest new combinations of ingredients that could help cooks to create new, and sometimes quite delicious, recipes. It does so by analyzing the chemical compounds in each ingredient.
IBM joined Bon Appétit magazine to create a Web application called Chef Watson, now in beta, that offers lists of ingredients that can be used to create recipes. Bon Appétit is also working up a cookbook of the best Watson-based creations submitted by users.
IBM focused Watson on the culinary world to "help the public understand what these new types of technologies are capable of doing," said Mike Rhodin, IBM senior vice president in the Watson Group, at an event Thursday to promote a new cloud service, called Watson Discovery Advisor. That service can help researchers in any field find fresh connections within vast realms of data.
"Much the same way Jeopardy helped people understand that cognitive systems could understand questions using natural language, Chef Watson helps us understand how these new systems can be used in our everyday lives," Rhodin said.
Tuning Watson to the culinary arts has proved to be a success story for IBM.
Watson "starts building an understanding of what ingredients and compounds work well together, and it then extrapolates and looks for new patterns," Steve Gold, IBM vice president for the Watson platform, said in an interview. "Turns out, Watson is really good at coming up with combinations of ingredients that have never been tried before."
In February, IBM set up a food truck at the SXSW interactive arts conference to show off some Watson-inspired recipes. It drew long lines of hungry attendees.
IBM Research first developed Watson to compete with human contestants on the Jeopardy game show in 2011, using natural language processing and analytics, as well as many sources of structured and unstructured data, to answer the shows questions.
In the years since, the company has been working to commercialize the Watson technology, identifying industries that could benefit from cognitive computing, such as health care, law enforcement and finance.
To help its researchers better understand the culinary arts, IBM paired with the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.