The cheese pavlova made by robots

Fonterra and IBM launch an artificial intelligence-created recipe, calling it a “cognitive twist on a Kiwi Classic” 

Lured to Fonterra HQ by visions of robot cheese, I quickly realised it wasn’t artificial cheese I was in for, but an artificially-created recipe.

The recipe for the “dairy-based creation” - designed to showcase collaboration between Fonterra and IBM - was hatched by an artificial intelligence machine called Watson. Wanting to capture the "personality" of Wynyard Quarter, the companies fed research into Watson and waited hungrily for the results. Watson decided Auckland’s revamped waterfront was best characterised by traits like fearlessness and an adventurous spirit.

And what’s more fearless than brown sugar and chilli meringue with cheddar cheese, pomegranates and mango?

Surprisingly, the response to the “Cheddar-lova” was overwhelmingly positive. But handing out cheese pavlova might have been, to an extent, preaching to the choir.

“It’s really delicious, I didn’t expect it to be so good. I close my eyes so it tastes even better.”

“Nice. And where you do you work?”

“Fonterra.”

It was time to try the thing myself, and I have to say it was, quite good. I had wondered what was going through Watson’s mind when he paired meringue with cheese, but I must have been lacking that adventurous spirit.

Chefs put the Cheddar-lova together at Fonterra. Photo: Cass Mason

While you won’t be finding the Chedda-lova on shelves anywhere, Watson does do home orders. Faced with half a packet of pasta, cream cheese and, let’s say, some pineapple, you can head to IBM’s “Chef Watson” website to challenge the computer to come up with something edible. 

It seems the pavlova gimmick is a taste of what A.I. can do, rather than the beginning of a robot recipe commercial enterprise.

Asked if the chef who actually assembled the creation panicked he would lose his job, IBM was quick to clarify that the A in Artificial Intelligence was really for Augmented. It’s all about machines and humans working “together” to augment intelligence, not to replace the human mind.

Apparently even Simon Gault is on board.

However, chatting to IBM’s head of all things AI, Isuru Fernando, it seems the system is being tasked with some more worthy duties.

Not only did Watson clock the television show Jeopardy, but its technology is now being used - among other things - to identify malignant moles. (New Zealand has a dermatologist shortage so no need to worry about an unemployed skin doctor epidemic.)

Fernando seemed genuinely excited about what Watson can do, and wanted to talk about the roads A.I. is making in the fields of science and medicine.

“We’re nearing a human-like accuracy rate.”

One of our biggest reservations about AI is the fear the insidious technology will put us out of work, but it’s worth considering how much we already rely on it.

Fonterra’s head of digital transformation, Dominic Quin, kindly pointed out the technology in my iPhone already helps me in ways I wasn’t aware of. Between maps and playlists, A.I. is already well embedded in our day-to-day. Just not as conspicuously as cheese pavlova. 

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