Following up my recent post on the future of design and Big Data, I stumbled upon news of IBM experimenting with Big Data to create recipes:

The company is betting that it can build a big business by taking the Watson technology into new fields. The uses … include helping to develop drugs, predicting when industrial machines need maintenance and even coming up with novel recipes for tasty foods.

Watson, the first computer to win on the quiz show Jeopardy! back in 2011, did so by collecting and analyzing more than 200 million pages of data. But while that was an intellectual challenge, creating delicious recipes is more creative in nature. The article explains how IBM is going about it:

In San Jose, I.B.M. plans to serve the assembled analysts a breakfast pastry devised by Watson, called a “Spanish crescent.” It is a collaboration of Watson’s software and James Briscione, a chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan.

I.B.M. researchers have watched and talked to Mr. Briscione as he works, selecting ingredients and building out dishes. Watson has read those notes, 20,000 recipes, data on the chemistry of food ingredients, and measured ratings of flavors people like in categories like “olfactory pleasantness.”

Watson’s assignment has been to come up with recipes that are both novel and taste good. In the case of the breakfast pastry, Watson was told to come up with something inspired by Spanish cuisine, but unusual and healthy. The computer-ordered ingredients include cocoa, saffron, black pepper, almonds and honey — but no butter, Watson’s apparent nod to healthier eating.

Then, Mr. Briscione, working with those ingredients, had to adjust portions and make the pastry.

“If I could have used butter, it would have been a lot easier,” said the chef, who used vegetable oil instead.

For computers, imagination seems to be the next frontier.