The increasingly bizarre South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas usually throws a few curveballs. This year, it was a six course meal designed by Watson, IBM's 'cognitive computer'.
Watson rather famously competed against two champions from the US game show Jeopardy, easily beating both.
IBM decided that for its next trick, Watson should do something a little more endearing and less "opening scene of the next Terminator movie". So Watson designed a feast.
IBM partnered with New York's Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) who gave Watson access to its 30,000 plus recipe database. At the same time, Watson was learning about food science and chemistry.
The goal was for the supercomputer to come up with six dishes that had never been heard of before which the ICE chefs would prepare. The humans involved gave Watson three criteria for each dish: a regional food style (say Szechuan); a meal type (soup, stew etc); and a main ingredient. With those parameters in place, Watson had a think and came up with the recipe.
CNET's Daniel Terdiman was actually at the dinner and had this to say about Chef Watson's creations:
Would this food scare Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame? I doubt it. But there are a lot of nice restaurants out there that would be happy to serve the food we ate Thursday night.
It started with a Czech pork belly moussaka, moved on to Kenyan Brussels sprouts, then a Russian beet salad, two different takes on Italian roast duck (using the same ingredients for each), and finally an Ecuadorian strawberry dessert.
Each dish was tasty, though the flavours for many of them lacked a bit of punch. I'm no foodie, and certainly no food reviewer, so I'll leave that job to others, but I will say that the presentation was lovely, the smells were terrific, and the taste was very nice. The dessert was amazing, with several of us agreeing it was the star of the evening.
The dinner wasn't the end of Watson's cooking career, either. For the whole of SXSW, IBM will have a food truck on hand. Attendees can play with the system to suggest some meals and vote on the suggestions. Each day, Watson will create the ingredient list for the winning meal. You can keep an eye on what's happening with the project at ibm.com/cognitivecooking.