Sometimes you just don’t know what you want for dinner. Or what you want for dinner is a case of beer and you know that’s a bad idea. So you go get yourself a tuna melt and then you drink a case of beer after all. Or you look through a cookbook and feel incapacitated by laziness/indecision or you eat cereal while watching Celeste and Jesse Forever. None of these are really satisfying options. In a few years’ time, however, you might have a new handy friend who can help you in such moments of culinary indecision, and that handy friend will be your computer.
IBM is currently working on a computer that works with actual cognitive function, meaning that it learns from experience the way humans do (or, are supposed to anyway, although judging by the whole “case of beer” thing, you don’t). The idea is this computer knows what kind of food you like and it will give you informed instructions on what to eat. And it doesn’t just invent meals based on your favorite ingredients — it could actually analyze your favorite foods to understand what flavors you like best. Because this very smart computer will be able to deal with taste on a molecular level, it will be able to put together food combinations that you will love that you yourself would probably be unable to come up with.
Lest you think, however, that this cognitive computer will just tell you to eat things that you like — “It’s telling me to drink a case of beer for dinner? Again? I love this guy!” — it also tries to make its choices good for you, and nutritionally well-rounded. Well, either that or it will invariably produce a liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
Every year, IBM comes up with five innovations that they believe will be important to the way people use technology. Cognitive computing around food choice is one of them. Others include digital taste buds, computers that decipher different baby sounds and try to tell you what’s up, and devices with a computerized sense of smell that can diagnose diseases. It might seem futuristic now, but maybe it won’t when you and your computer are eating a lovely pine-nut, apple, cheddar, and pork belly souffle that you created — together!