SEATTLE (NYTIMES) - Wandering among the engineers and strategy directors and managers of something called "connected customer experience" at the Smart Kitchen Summit, one had to wonder: Do any of these people actually cook?
The conference, now in its third year, brings together people on the front lines of technology to figure out how to move the digital revolution deeper into the kitchen. The kitchen is where Americans spend 60 per cent of their time at home when they are not sleeping, said Yoon Lee, a senior vice president at Samsung. That is why so many tech companies are focused on it.
Almost everyone here last week at Benaroya Hall, the home of the Seattle Symphony - whether an executive from a major appliance manufacturer, a Google engineer or a hopeful young entrepreneur with a popular Kickstarter concept - agreed that it was only a matter of five to 10 years before artificial intelligence had a permanent seat at the dinner table.
The coming kitchen technology, they said, will go well beyond a screen on the refrigerator door that allows you to check the weather while you search recipes.
Your power blender may be able to link to a device on your wrist that has been tracking your diet, then check in with your freezer and your kitchen scale. It could set up the right smoothie recipe based on what's on hand, how much weight you've gained and which fruit you prefer.
Your oven will be able to decide how and when to start roasting the salmon, then text the family when dinner is ready. Your refrigerator may be able to place a grocery store order, based on a careful study of how much you like to pay for certain items, whether you want them organic and whether peaches are in season.
Artificial intelligence will eventually understand your cooking needs so well that you need only tell a device that you would like to make your grandmother's chicken and noodles on Thursday, and all the ingredients will be ordered, paid for and delivered in time to cook. And when you start to cook, a virtual sous-chef will help with technique; a smart pan will suggest you turn down the heat before you scorch the onions.
The smart kitchen might even track how much of the dish you end up throwing away, and let you know who took the last beer in the refrigerator. (Do not worry. It ordered more.)
"We are creating new actors in our kitchens," said Rebecca Chesney, research director of the Food Futures Lab at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research center in Silicon Valley that studies the impact of technology on human values.
"We are talking to them and they are talking back to us," she said in a speech to the conference, which she urged to think first about what cooks might need in the kitchen and then design the technology to help them.
But based on the buzz here, many people see a future in which no one will need to know how to cook at all.
"You'll get appliances and hardware that lets you perform at a higher level of proficiency than what you can train for," said Nikhil Bhogal, a founder and the chief technical officer of June, which makes a Wi-Fi-enabled countertop oven by the same name that recognizes the food you put into it and tells you how to cook it precisely.
Much of this is still just a glint in an engineer's eye. To truly connect everything in the kitchen, technology and recipes will have to be standardised in such a way that food can be tracked from the farm to the plate.
The dreamers here talked of inventing a single database, like iTunes, for recipes, or even doing away with recipes altogether.
From the stage, TV cooking personality and cookbook author Tyler Florence went as far as to declare that "recipes are completely dead," in the way that paper road maps are dead. He then announced that he was joining a "proprietary connected food platform" startup called Innit.
Innit is still in development, but it appears to be software based on online recipes that have been broken down into preparations for various starches, produce and proteins. It will eventually learn, through the miracle of artificial intelligence, what sauce you like on your chicken and whether you have chicken in the refrigerator, and then give you a recipe for it.
Cooks at the conference were skeptical. It was hard to find anyone who wanted to discuss the joy that comes from cooking, or the escape from a hectic, technical life that softly scrambling an egg in the morning can bring.
None of the technical solutions seemed to account for how a cook might consider the ripeness of a pear, or thrill from creating a new recipe out of a pile of fresh chanterelles. The sense of satisfaction in learning a new dish or getting better at something did not seem to be part of the kitchen of the future.
"The assumption is that we're all very busy, but want to cook like a chef at home so we don't waste time making a meal that doesn't look or taste good," said Amanda Gold, a former food journalist who now consults with chefs and food companies.
Although she embraces technology that brings people back to the kitchen, Gold says cooking is both creative and emotional.
"If cooking becomes such a guided process that you don't have any emotion around it, you're going to take the heart out of it."