IBM's Watson Supercomputer Is Now a Chef

Aug 30, 2014 08:36 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

Will computers be doing the cooking in the future?

Maybe not, but IBM's Watson supercomputer is at least getting close to the kitchen by suggesting combinations of complementary ingredients to inspire cooks to come up with new recipes, PCWorld reported.

Working with Bon Appétit magazine, IBM developed a web application known as Chef Watson, where the computing system analyzes chemical compounds in ingredients to suggest new recipe ideas.

The supercomputer "starts building an understanding of what ingredients and compounds work well together, and it then extrapolates and looks for new patterns," said Steve Gold, IBM vice president for the Watson platform, as quoted by PCWorld. "Turns out, Watson is really good at coming up with combinations of ingredients that have never been tried before."

Watson suggests lists of ingredients that have complementary aromatic compounds, which are what give foods their various flavors; for example, the tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmesan that top a pizza all share compounds. The computer comes up with new recipes by combining ingredients that are scientifically complementary but aren't usually put together. 

Of course, whipping up new recipes is a peripheral project for the Watson supercomputer, which is being used for cancer research and other vital scientific probes. Watson famously appeared on the show "Jeopardy" in 2011 to answer questions and compete with human contestants.

"Watson has moved to helping researchers investigate the great unknown problems of our time," John Gordon, vice president of IBM's Watson Group, told "This whole space around Watson and technology is trying to push forward innovations."

Combining Watson's supercomputing abilities and the world of food is intended to give people an idea of how such technology will affect the everyday.

Chef Watson will "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, as quoted by PCWorld.

"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.

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