Five years after winning Jeopardy! one expected great things from IBM’s WATSON computer. Curing cancer. Solving big problems. We expected so much from “a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data.”
And what did we get? @!!@# Granola. Bear Naked Granola uses Watson to make custom suggestions for mixing your own granola which they will then ship to your door, ten bucks for ten ounces.
At first glance, it sounds like an idiotic waste of resources. After all, 50 ingredients is not exactly a large amount of unstructured data. But it is not so simple. According to John Kell in Fortune Magazine:
“This allows consumers to have a first of its kind discovery around food and unexpected flavor pairings,” Lauren Berkowitz, director of Watson Life, told Fortune. “What we did at the molecular level is taught Watson the science and chemistry and flavor pairings. And then applied that to food….When we use Chef Watson, you can discover things you wouldn’t think taste good together actually taste great.”
Berkowitz goes on to explain that this was the first time that consumers could "directly make decisions with the technology for their own food discovery."
I gave it a try and have to say, I am not certain that dill, strawberries and beet powder would taste great. I am not sure that a random draw might not have come up with the same thing. But I will certainly give Watson credit for originality.
Years ago I wrote about how wonderful the world would be if we got everything made to order, to exactly our tastes and desires. Writing about a custom granola startup:
Mass customization could mean less waste, as products are made to order rather than in the big lots that come with mass production. No more shelves of jeans to cover all sizes, or parking lots full of unsold cars waiting to be discounted. Or having to add fruit to my granola.
But I realized that it was a whole lot of work, making custom granola and shipping it all over the country in little boxes and having Fedex bring it to my door. Now, we have one of the world’s most powerful computers added to the mix. So much intelligence from Watson, a machine that is...
...a workload-optimized, integrating massively parallel POWER7 processors and built on IBM's DeepQA technology, which it uses to generate hypotheses, gather massive evidence, and analyze data. Watson employs a cluster of ninety IBM Power 750 servers, each of which uses a 3.5 GHz POWER7 eight core processor, with four threads per core. In total, the system has 2,880 POWER7 processor threads and 16 terabytes of RAM.
Then there is wonder of our transportation system in action; Edward Humes, in his book Door To Door, describes its complexity:
Every time you visit the Web site for UPS or Amazon or Apple and instantly learn where in the world your product or package can be found and when it will thump on your doorstep, you have achieved something that all but the still-living generations of humanity would have declared impossible or demonic.
All to deliver my dill and beet infused honey granola. What a marvellous modern world we live in.