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The future 5, Part 5: Taste

In the next five years, computers will begin to mimic and augment the senses. Through this week, IBM outlines five upcoming advances that will change our world. In Part 1, we explore the future of Taste.

The traditional computing era is based on deductive reasoning scenarios resolved by if/then questions. With Watson, the Jeopardy!-winning computer built by IBM, we’re beginning to see the move to more inductive reasoning – making observations and then drawing conclusions based on those observations.

Now, IBM researchers are developing a fundamentally different creative computing system to help humans eat smarter by understanding flavour.

We taste and perceive flavors through a chemical and neural process. While a computer won’t have human anatomy to process reactions to aromas and taste, it will be able to use algorithms to determine the precise chemical structure of food and why people like it. These algorithms will look at things like how chemicals interact with each other, number of molecules, the bonding structure, shape of chemicals, and use those together with models of perception to predict the pleasantness, familiarity and enjoyment of food. Then by adding constraints such as dietary restrictions, low-fat diets, or locally-sourced ingredients, the system can make recommendations for the right meal plan or recipe while also surprising us with unusual pairings of foods that are designed to maximize our experience of taste and flavor.

¬∑ A diabetic can’t eat sugar, but in the future, we might be able to model what it is that satisfies their sweet tooth and actually develop flavors and recipes that will keep their blood sugar regulated, but also satsify their cravings.

¬∑ Students eating school lunches receive meals that meet nutritional standards. However, they aren’t always especially tasty, and oftentimes students just eat the dessert and throw the rest away, creating a lot of waste and missing the nutritional targets set. IBM is working to make the whole meal flavorful so students will enjoy reaching predetermined nutritional objectives. There is a similar situation in nursing homes and hospitals.

Each person has a unique biological identity and behind all that is data. We know that grandmother’s pie is delicious but not the root cause of why we like it. Instead of scrolling through ineffective web searches for food and recipes with similar flavor profiles and ingredients, IBM is working on a system that can help us create the food we love most in a healthy, sustainable way.


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