IBM's Watson supercomputer strives to be jack of all trades

May 9, 2015 by Sophie Estienne
Watson, the IBM supercomputer, is becoming a jack of all trades for the US tech giant
Watson, the IBM supercomputer, is becoming a jack of all trades for the US tech giant

Watson already has won a major TV game show, is looking for a cure for cancer and has ambitious gastronomy ambitions including devising a recipe for chocolate-beef burritos.

The IBM supercomputer is becoming a jack of all trades for the US tech giant—including in its new role as a business consultant and analyst for various industries by using massive Internet databases.

Watson, which gained fame in 2011 for defeating human opponents on the "Jeopardy" quiz show, has been reaching into its since then for an array of other services.

IBM has developed a Watson Engagement Advisor application to counsel members of the military and their families how to smartly manage shifting to life after the service.

In the oil and gas sector, IBM has worked with the British tech group Arria to integrate Watson's capabilities to help improve management of leaks in refineries.

"You can lose a billion dollars through leaks. It's bad for revenues, it's bad for the environment, it's bad for the security," said Robert Dale, Arria's .

In health care, IBM in the past week expanded its partnerships in cancer research to 14 US treatment centers to help developed personalized care based on genetics for cases that are difficult to treat.

IBM has worked with health insurers to use big data to improve patient care and has joined with Johnson & Johnson and the medical device maker Medtronic to monitor patients with diabetes and to manage post-operative treatments.

Watson is also in banking: working with financial firms to help advisors compare investment offerings.

IBM sees so much potential in its supercomputer Watson that it plans to invest $1 billion in the technology, and nearly 20 busin
IBM sees so much potential in its supercomputer Watson that it plans to invest $1 billion in the technology, and nearly 20 business sectors have joined the effort

"The applicability of the technology is unlimited, anywhere where large amounts of information exist, the technology can be applied," said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM's Watson division.

"We are at a point in human history where we generate more data than we can consume."

He was speaking at a New York event to encourage new applications for the supercomputer.

IBM sees so much potential in Watson that it announced plans last year to invest $1 billion in the division, and nearly 20 business sectors have joined the effort.

Watson has teamed with Elemental Path, maker of "smart toys," such as a dinosaur that can tell stories and answer questions from children.

"It has the brain of Watson, the spirit of a dinosaur, and efficient answers... to the most awkward questions," said JP Benini, co-founder of Elemental Path.

'Chef Watson'

Watson is also getting considerable attention in the kitchen. It uses data analytics to blend flavors and come up with new combinations.

"Watson gives us ingredients to make a dish, selected to pair well together," said James Briscione of the Institute of Culinary Education.

Briscione noted that "Chef Watson" uses a flavor pairing theory based on chemical compounds, a creative way to mix computing and cuisine that produced a bacon-mushroom dessert served at the New York event.

For the culinary minded, Watson allows chefs to indicate a particular dish, such as a salad or burrito, and Watson offers new suggestions like the chocolate-beef burrito recipe it has crafted.

The computer has in its memory thousands of recipes from "Bon Appetit" magazine, and it also knows the chemical properties of foods. If Watson suggests marrying strawberries with mushrooms, it's because the two foods share a chemical bond.

"Every dish we put together is a combination of ingredients that nobody has ever seen before," Briscione said.

Explore further: IBM's Watson extends cancer insights to 14 new centers

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3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2015
Now after billions $ were needlessly spent, Watson is hopelessly looking for its purpose. Sadly, that can only be exile to ordinary cloud services ghetto like all other dummier computer collectives. Unless Watson brings its own kind to freedom out of slavery. So much for AI.
1 / 5 (1) May 10, 2015
The cooking application is a bit awkward and certainly not the first thing we could think about applying AI to.
5 / 5 (2) May 10, 2015
You have to come with stronger arguments. Your line reminds me of the 90s when fellow researchers from behind their Silicon Graphics workstations considered my Mac Plus and its mouse just a toy.
1 / 5 (1) May 10, 2015
Mac Plus I do not know but definitely Mac II was not a toy, it had hard drive with 40 MB space. At that time , long ago, at work I had sparkstation though.

I guess computer geniuses think that developing food recipes takes more intelligence then solving Einstein Field Equations.
5 / 5 (1) May 10, 2015
What looks like a toy today maybe ruling tomorrow.
5 / 5 (1) May 10, 2015
What I'm waiting is an $5 Watson app from IBM, which you can consult when you have illness symptoms, and it will discuss like Siri with you until it finds out the answer what illness you most likely may have. Also, proposes appropriate blood or other tests to verify the answer.

Couple years ago that would have saved me 4 months of various doctor visits until they finally found I had lymphoma.
not rated yet May 10, 2015
Let's see Watson compose a musical piece, the "theory" behind it should be much simpler than all those complex chemical interactions. Then we'll see just how well Watson has put the whole picture together.
5 / 5 (1) May 10, 2015
"I guess computer geniuses think that developing food recipes takes more intelligence then solving Einstein Field Equations."

Solving field equations is basic math, exactly what digital computers are best at. Hard for humans, but easy for them. Inventing recipes requires that they taste good to humans, or the inventor will be out of work. Easy for humans (at least some humans), but hard to reduce to digital calculations.

So, yes, a computer that can devise successful recipes is more intelligent, in at least one sense, than one that solves field equations.

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