My visit to IBM Watson

by on November 21, 2013 at 3:40 pm in Food and Drink, Science, Travels, Web/Tech | Permalink

I very much enjoyed my visit to their excellent Saarinen-designed building, up in Westchester County somewhere.  No office has a window but every path you might take from one part of the building to another gives you beautiful full-window views of the surrounding countryside.

I wish to thank all the people who took the time to show me and explain to me what they are up to.  Their program suggested that more dairy (milk, not coconut milk) can be blended into Thai recipes with greater gain than you otherwise might think.

I had as a personal guide the man who is the voice of Watson and I told him to go see In a World…

Their cafeteria is excellent and the people in charge understand which recipes transfer well to institutional settings and which do not.  Their vegetarian food is delicious and looks delicious, rendering the “nudge” unnecessary.  From the rest of the menu, the turkey chili is of special commendation.  Google take note, you are falling behind in the culinary department…

1 RM November 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Whatever the nudge is, I am guessing that it will still be needed for a long time: vegetarian food is still the first choice of few people.

2 A.S. November 21, 2013 at 4:04 pm

It’s in Yorktown Heights. Did you eat in Mt Kisco?

3 jqhart November 21, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Their program apparently didn’t incorporate the fact that most East Asians are lactose intolerant.

4 Rahul November 22, 2013 at 2:07 am

What percent of E. Asians are truly lactose intolerant to the point where they forgo milk & milk products?

I ask because I seem to see lots of them at our local ice cream shop. Do they get around it by popping enzyme pills?

5 Roy November 22, 2013 at 8:50 am

I think a lot of the ability to digest lactose is actually from stomach flora. There is considerable anecdotal evidence for this.

6 dan1111 November 22, 2013 at 2:16 am

The fact that software can successfully make suggestions to improve recipes is quite remarkable. That is the point. No one is saying that Watson should be in charge of the actual food in Thailand.

7 citi.zen November 21, 2013 at 4:36 pm

@jqhart: therein lies the opportunity.

8 jqhart November 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Nah. AI has at least two big general problems: one, that programs incorporate only a small portion of the relevant and important knowledge, and two, they have severe problems integrating different kinds of bodies of knowledge, which require a dazzling variety of different and incompatible representations. For example, knowledge of digestive health and nutrition takes a very different form than knowledge of taste.

Interestingly, these are also general problems in the social sciences, albeit there is less recognition and admission of these problems in the social sciences in AI.

9 jqhart November 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm

^in the social sciences _than_ in AI.

10 ummm November 21, 2013 at 4:56 pm

another huge day for stocks & bitcoin. Dow >16000 comes 17,000

It’s like the crisis of 2007-09 was just a blip in a relentless progression of technology, innovation ,wealth creation, and prosperity. If you told people five years ago that the dow would cross 16000 they would think you were nuts; even 14000 would elicit an awkward response, and yet here we are today. We can thanks Bernanke, congress, bond holders, and the tireless, ever-reliable US consumer for getting us there.

11 Max Factor November 21, 2013 at 9:38 pm

I enjoy your daily recaps. What are your feelings re: gold vs. Bitcoin? I would rather own the real metal, but I’m old school.

12 JJ November 21, 2013 at 5:51 pm


13 Treehorn November 21, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I work for the company that prepares the food at IBM. We also have the dining account at Google as well. Of course, the client definitely has input on menu offerings, but concepts are similar.

14 Rahul November 22, 2013 at 12:17 am

Budgets? Identical?

15 prior_approval November 21, 2013 at 11:37 pm

‘Their program suggested that more dairy (milk, not coconut milk) can be blended into Thai recipes with greater gain than you otherwise might think.’

Except for all those billions of adults, like the Thais, that are lactose intolerant. Which just might explain why milk (dairy) is not such a major component of recipes in most parts of the world, as there is no gain to be found for those actually eating the food.

16 Ray Lopez November 22, 2013 at 1:12 am

You wonder how the Asians get calcium, I guess from eating seafood, and their teeth are rotten, like the Brits are. As for TC’s visit I found this amusing: “I wish to thank all the people who took the time to show me and explain to me what they are up to.” – do you think IBM, which is paranoid about security, showed TC anything not already in the public domain? I doubt it. It was all a PR piece and Potemkin village.

17 NMPS-R-US November 21, 2013 at 11:41 pm

You’re a special case, Cowen. You write like a vegetarian, but you’re starting to show signs of improvement. The content has certainly improved of late. I don’t know for how long I’ll be able to mentor you like this, though. My schedule is rather demanding, as you well know.

18 Rahul November 22, 2013 at 12:20 am

I think lots of gravy recipes generically improve with a touch of milk. The creaminess milk yields seems a desirable texture attribute.

19 patrick k November 22, 2013 at 7:49 am

My mother worked at the building from the day it opened until 1990. At 90 she still lives off the dividends of the stock they gave her not to mention a pension of all things! She has never sold a share since 1958. She personally knew anyone that was anyone and met all the foreign dignitaries who came to visit. I still have my THINK plaque! As a kid I got to meet all the mucky-mucks on a couple of occasions.

20 Oreg November 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I worked at the Watson lab a number of years back and their cafeteria has been by far the worst in my career. Given the drastic budget cuts they’ve made in the meantime it is very unlikely it has improved since. Is your baseline university cafeterias that are even worse? Am I spoiled by European cafeterias?

21 Rahul November 23, 2013 at 6:11 am

European work-cafes are indeed decadent. Even the University ones served three course meals and at a throwaway price too.

22 Lord November 23, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Turkey doesn’t stand up to chili.

23 Peter Russell November 24, 2013 at 12:34 am

“No office has a window”? Jesus God. Keep your stock dividends and pensions.

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