Bringing data-driven insights into food and couture fashion
IBM's Watson focuses on food and fashion – keeping abreast of the latest tastes and styles.
My confidence in Watson's data and design ideas gave me the freedom to focus on the creative side without second-guessing my decisions."
Jason Grech, Australian fashion designer
Australian fashion designer Jason Grech admits he is more at home with a needle and thread than keyboard and mouse. That’s why he was reluctant at first to partner with technology to create a collection for Melbourne Spring Fashion Week.
Of course, IBM's Watson is no ordinary technology. It's an example of next-generation cognitive computing, which can sift through vast amounts of information in search of insight, learning as it goes.
The goal of cognitive computing is not to build machines that can think for themselves and replace people. It's to build machines that help us to look at vast amounts of data in new ways.
Watson's skills are being applied to everything from checking images of moles to identify skin cancers, to predicting faults in power station turbines, but cognitive computing can also help with more creative endeavours.
New Zealand celebrity chef Simon Gault has put Watson to work suggesting food and flavour combinations. Meanwhile, fashion designer Grech used Watson to create his most successful spring collection.
Grech soon came to trust the instincts of IBM's cognitive computing platform after it studied 10 years of Vogue fashion archives and accurately predicted the next season’s colours on the runways of Paris.
"In the beginning I didn't think that a machine had much to offer in a highly creative field like fashion, but Watson's ability to look at the big picture and then offer guidance proved to be invaluable," Grech says.
"After studying the fashions, it helped create a colour story for my collection with pinks, lavenders, greys, yellows and creams. Weeks later, I saw those same colours on the runways at Paris Fashion Week, after which I had complete trust in Watson's abilities."
More than just choosing colours, Watson helped with dress designs based on Melbourne Spring Fashion Week 2016's theme of architecture. After studying architectural images chosen by Grech, Watson called on the Vogue fashion archives for inspiration in terms of styles and fabric prints. Grech used these to help build his collection storyboard.
Watson also considered the personality traits of people who favour different garment designs to help create something to suit their tastes.
On the culinary front, IBM set Chef Watson the task of studying 10,000 recipes from an American food magazine, Bon Appétit, to learn about food-pairing theories, molecular structure and nutritional details.
While the chefs still rule the kitchen, Watson has proved to be a great assistant – matching eight or nine ingredients at once to help develop new dishes to surprise and delight diners with innovative new flavour combinations.
"The restaurant game is incredibly competitive, in fact it's cut-throat, and we're all looking for a competitive edge," Gault says.
"When I first sat down in front of the computer and started working with Chef Watson I was excited,” Gault says. “I couldn't believe the different flavour combinations offered. My mind could never think of all those combinations available."
Like Gault's experience in the kitchen, Grech was also amazed by Watson's insights into fashion. It proved to be a significant time-saver, allowing him to craft his collection's fashion storyboard in weeks instead of months.
"My confidence in Watson's data and design ideas gave me the freedom to focus on the creative side without second-guessing my decisions," he says. "It also allowed me more time to focus on other aspects of my business such as sales, PR and marketing.
"Watson didn't do all the work for me. It's not out to take my job. It's just another powerful tool at your disposal to help you perform at your best."
It's been a fruitful partnership, with Watson helping to double sales on the previous season with growing international interest. Grech's creations were also praised at the Melbourne Cup along with the red carpet events at the AFL and NRL best-and-fairest nights. Thanks to this success, he has recently hired extra staff and is looking to expand in 2017.
"I've been in business for more than a decade and this collection that I've put together with Watson has certainly been my most successful," he says. "Thanks to those strong sales results I can see that it has had a significant impact on our bottom line while helping us reach new markets.
"So far I've only used Watson in one aspect of the business but I'm confident that it has plenty to offer in all kinds of areas. I'd say it has the potential to completely transform our business."
Welcome to the Cognitive Era
A new era of business. A new era of technology. A new era of thinking.
The Cognitive Era brings with it a fundamental change in how systems are built and interact with humans. Cognitive solutions are already unclogging city traffic, improving emergency services, making food supplies safer and improving customer engagement. But this is just the beginning. It's time to outthink what is achievable.