IBM Supercomputer 'Watson' Turns Hand To Cooking

John Lister's picture

The super computer that won Jeopardy! is now turning its hand to cooking. IBM's Watson has come up with some unlikely recipes including a strawberry curry.

IBM originally developed the supercomputer specifically to compete on the game show called Jeopardy!. It was considered a major challenge for a computer as Jeopardy! doesn't simply require players to know facts, but to decipher clues. While normal game shows have a question with a single answer, winning Jeopardy! means finding the most likely of all possible questions that could relate to the supplied answer.

Watson proved up to the challenge and comprehensively defeated two former champions, using four terabytes (four thousand gigabytes) of data on a hard drive, and not using an Internet connection.

Watson Already Gives Medical Advice

Since then, IBM has licensed the technology for a range of uses, particularly in medicine. In theory it should be particularly suited to identifying possible conditions from known symptoms.

In practice it has so far been mainly used to identify the best treatment for people diagnosed with particular conditions such as lung cancer. Part of Watson's success in this field comes from its ability to sift through huge amounts of data from past clinical trials and medical records to find connections between specific characteristics in patients and successful or failed treatment elements.

The latest use of the technology comes from food magazine "Bon Appetit," which has worked with IBM to develop Chef Watson, an app designed to create recipes. It does so by combining information from three main sources.

Food App Takes Methodical Approach

The first is a database of 9,000 recipes printed in the magazine over the years. The second is a database of the various chemical compounds from individual ingredients and the way they combine to affect flavor. The third is data about the reactions humans have to specific flavors.

Many of the recipes Chef Watson has created sound bizarre but make logical sense when broken down. For example, it created a variant of apple pie that favored the cuisine in the Baltic region. What makes it particularly unusual is that it has a layer of pork tenderloin. (Source:

The BBC notes that the app, which is being released to the general public this week, also allows users to generate recipes that meet specific criteria such as being gluten-free or minimizing food waste. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Can a computer ever match human chefs when it comes to designing tasty dishes? Is cookery a chemistry "problem" that can be solved with a logical algorithm? Or is it more of an art that relies on human intuition?

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Dennis Faas's picture

A supercomputer that can algorithmically determine a food recipe is interesting, but I'd much rather see this technology used as a search engine for determining illness. Imagine walking into a supercomputer kiosk that can ask questions and take samples, and then determine what is wrong with you all within a matter of seconds. No more appointments and long waits in the doctor's office!

flyfishers's picture

I agree with you Dennis it is a very interesting idea but to have it solve possible illnesses would be a much better use of its time. But who knows maybe that's the next step for it learn to play jeopardy (against humans), learn to create recipes (for humans), then ...... learn to heal the sick (humans)
Modern technology gotta love it :)

guitardogg's picture

Yes, Watson was impressive on Jeopardy, but it had an unfair (IMHO) advantage when it came to ringing in. Not matter how fast a human can react, the computer has him beat! Playing Jeopardy or chess, or cooking is fine, but better used solving human problems, medical or otherwise.

matt_2058's picture

I see nothing wrong with the path of the technology. Use Jeopardy!, cooking, and any other situations to fully develop the process. Wring it out and check the viability of the solutions. This could be the ultimate 'thinking out of the box' exercise. Medical use will get there. The only problem will be the doctors' ego and getting reduced to what amounts to a technician, and I don't think they will like it. Just like politicians/lawyers and streamlining government....oil and water.

I would definitely use the cooking app when it's developed a little more so I can add a few 'clues' to get a recipe.....or rather dinner plan. If I could load an inventory, tell it what I'm kinda hungry for (or not interested in), and give it a prep&cook time constraint...and it would give me 2or3 that would be the sh!t !!!