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Machine’s Gastronomy

It’s the end of a long day. You are ravenous and scurry to the kitchen to rustle up something quickly. The kitchen cabinet looks like a looted house – 2 jars of spices that you have no idea where to use, some condiments, and a couple of carrots and onions. You forgot to go shopping and now don’t have any clue as to what you can cook with these measly ingredients.

Enter your Messiah – The cognitive cooking AI. Type in the name of the ingredients you have in your kitchen into this system and voila, you end up with step-by-step instructions on how to dish up something delicious! This dish could be one from a database of millions of cuisines from across the globe. Who knows, this might even end up breaking the vicious cycle of “I don’t know what to cook, let me just order in!”.

Cognitive computing is a blend of cognitive science, which describes how the human mind works, and computer science. It is a sub-field of AI and refers to technology that simulates the functioning of the human brain, thereby enhancing human decision-making. Fed with a myriad of data from different cuisines, food chemistry, and taste preferences, cognitive cooking AI can provide recipes of dishes that the user can cook from the ingredients they have at home. Not only can this make the process of cooking riveting, but it also can help in breaking away from the monotony of cooking the same dishes time and again and sticking to the same cuisine just because the user knows it well. It can help the user unravel different combinations of flavors and concoct contrasting and delicious fusions of meals.

Also, another pronounced utilization of this technology would be in reducing food wastage. Recipe creation and innovative flavor pairing can allow users to make the most of the ingredients at home, ingredients which otherwise might have been tossed into the trash, merely due to lack of awareness as to how they can be infused into meals. It can also make users make healthier food choices by providing recipes of nutritious meals that can be put together with existing ingredients. This technology would also be a blessing to those with dietary restrictions as it can provide a world of choices of food that can be prepared without the use of certain constituents.

In 2015, IBM released the beta version of the world’s first cognitive cooking engine – Chef Watson. Chef Watson was a one-of-its-kind technology that helped thousands of users revamp their cooking styles. It provided professional chefs with interesting alternatives to existing food and novel flavors that were unique yet delicious. To the common folk, Watson changed the face of cooking from a trite daily chore to an interesting and creative experiment. Chef Watson learned its recipes from Bon Appetit, which is a cookery website that contains thousands of recipes and cooking information. Watson, apart from helping people cook with creativity, also had an ingredient exclusion function that helped users steer clear of constituents they were not fond of.

Watson in its prime time also whipped up a cookbook along with chefs from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York – “Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson: Recipes for Innovation from IBM & the Institute of Culinary Education”. It contains 65 innovative, intricate, and appetizing recipes novel to the human taste buds, completely unheard of before!

After being on the run for almost three years till 2018, Chef Watson has now been taken down by IBM. IBM hasn’t provided an official response to why the reign of the smart chef has come to an end. Maybe a super-smart MasterChef version of Watson is on its way!

With Chef Watson away from the spotlight, as of now, there is no other application in existence that can provide services of this kind. Cognitive cooking may continue to exist only as a proof-of-concept, but sure, cognitive technology with the potential to observe, evaluate, and comprehend information via human interaction paves the way for a new wave of digitalization in any sphere of life.


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