Watson Takes to the Kitchen: First Step Toward Big Data?

Watson — the computer running IBM’s artificial intelligence technology, famous for beating “Jeopardy” champions two years ago — will soon enter the kitchen in an attempt by the company to turn Watson into a commercially viable product. And it’s not only cooking; IBM is showcasing various uses for the technology, such as developing drugs and predicting when industrial machines need maintenance.

“The new Watson projects — some on the cusp of commercialization, others still research initiatives — are at the leading edge of a much larger business for IBM and other technology companies,” writes The New York Times, adding that this “market involves helping corporations, government agencies and science laboratories find useful insights in a rising flood of data from many sources — Web pages, social network messages, sensor signals, medical images, patent filings, location data from cellphones and others.”

A key portion of the market, commonly referred to as Big Data, is the software techniques of artificial intelligence like machine learning. “IBM has been building this business for years with acquisitions and internal investment. Today, the company says it is doing Big Data and analytics work with more than 10,000 customers worldwide. Its work force includes 9,000 business analytics consultants and 400 mathematicians,” details the article. “And IBM forecasts that its revenue from Big Data work will reach $16 billion by 2015.”

There’s plenty of competition within the Big Data market, including companies like Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and the SAS Institute — all of whom are using data-mining technology to trim costs, design new products and finds new sales opportunities in banking, retail, manufacturing and healthcare.

But there’s a difference still, between IBM and the others. “…the Watson initiatives, analysts say, represent pioneering work. With some of those applications, like suggesting innovative recipes, Watson is starting to move beyond producing ‘Jeopardy’ style answers to investigating the edges of human knowledge to guide discovery,” according to the article.

As for the kitchen initiative, IBM plans to serve a group of analysts a breakfast pastry devised by Watson. Called a “Spanish crescent,” it is a collaboration between Watson’s software and James Briscione, a chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan.

“Watson’s assignment has been to come up with recipes that are both novel and taste good,” reports NYT. “In the case of the breakfast pastry, Watson was told to come up with something inspired by Spanish cuisine, but unusual and healthy. The computer-ordered ingredients include cocoa, saffron, black pepper, almonds and honey — but no butter, Watson’s apparent nod to healthier eating.”