The Chef of the Future Could Be a Robot—IBM Is Cooking Up Another Assault on Skilled Labor

It sounds neat, but could have big-time human consequences.


There was once a time when all dirty dishes needed to be cleaned by hand. Warm water, soap, scrubbing -- all necessary. Then came the all-powerful dishwasher, a near necessity in American homes and food establishments. Small appliances like the microwave, toaster oven, blender and electric mixer have all made kitchen tasks unarguably easier, but with technology advancing at an unprecedent rapid rate, how long until inventions totally change the way we prepare food?

IBM's Watson, a robot who calls the East Village of Manhattan home, may not need food to survive, but this artificially intelligent machine is equipped to feed the masses.

With Cognitive Cooking, the technology company has developed a food truck where a computer does the work. Chefs can say goodbye to occupational hazards like cuts and burns -- programmming is the new cheffing with this technology. 

Accomplished human chefs James Briscione, Michael Laiskonis, Michael Garrett and Florian Pinel teamed up to create recipes and cooking instructions for IBM's cognitive cooking project. All of the food preparation data is stored in the IBM cloud, from ingredients to pairings to specific dishes -- there's no doubt the cooking robot knows more about food than several chefs combined, and most eaters. 

Watson isn't the only robot donning an apron. Researchers at the University of Maryland recently shared a YouTube video in which their robots learn to cook by watching videos -- manipulating objects based on appearance and structure. But should food be treated as just another object? 

Food has been prepared, processed and packaged by factory equipment for decades, and we're just now realizing the dangers of some of these foods -- is taking human interaction away from ingredients the best way to perpetuate the future of food?

In Japan, a robot has been recorded producing 2500 units of inari sushi per hour and last September a VICE reporter recounted the experience of dining in a Chinese restaurant staffed entirely by robots. The BurritoBot, originally launched on Kickstarter, 3D prints burritos in a couple minutes, and the list of computer-created food goes on.  

While efficency is certainly key in the hospitality industry, doesn't hospitality infer some type of positive human interaction? 

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Melissa Kravitz is a writer in New York City who writes about food and culture for First We Feast, Thrillist, Elite Daily, Edible, and other publications. She is a writing fellow for Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Find her online at Follow her on Twitter @melissabethk.