In our age of ramen burgers and tikka masala burritos, food trucks already seem like they've broken down cuisine boundaries pretty well. But here's a new twist. IBM supercomputer Watson -- the one who outsmarted humans on Jeopardy! a few years back -- has taken a new position in the kitchen. IBM recently teamed up with the Institute of Culinary Education in New York to use Watson's incredibly, superhuman database recall skills to come up with new recipes and flavor combinations for a food truck that's making its rounds in the U.S.
Here's how it works: IRL chefs put in an ingredient or two and then Watson searches through all sorts of permutations from regional cuisines and recipes around the web to spit out a recipe or list of ingredients for the chef to interpret into a dish. So it's more of a collaboration between human and machine, at least for the moment.
Some of Watson's combos sound quite pleasant, like a Cuban lobster bouillabaisse with squash. Others sound like disastrous stoner dorm room combos, like an Austrian chocolate burrito, or a moussaka recipe with cottage cheese, red bell peppers, dill, pork belly, and cheddar cheese. But chef James Briscone, director of culinary development at ICE, told NPR that all the dishes Watson has designed have been delicious. In some cases like the latter, unexpectedly so.
Is smart computer recipe-engineering the future? A research scientist on the IBM side has made this astonishing claim: "In five years, computers will know what you like to eat more than you do."
We'll see. A few recipes are posted on the website, and the food truck where Watson's cooking is making an appearance at SXSF Interactive after its debut at a Vegas tech conference. We're assuming it's only a matter of time before he rolls over to S.F., but in the meantime, you can watch this video and wonder if this is better or worse than the robot noodle chefs of Japan.