Smart kitchens for the future

Recent Smart Kitchen Summit in the United States shows that, in time to come, artificial intelligence is likely to have a permanent seat at the dinner table

SEATTLE • Grandma will not be able to feel right at home in the kitchen of the future, going by the ideas cooked up at the recent Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle.

The conference, in its third year, brings together people on the front lines of technology to further fire up the digital revolution in the kitchen.

The place is where Americans spend 60 per cent of their time at home when not sleeping, said Mr Yoon Lee, a senior vice-president at Samsung. This is why so many technology firms are focused on it.

Almost everyone at Benaroya Hall, the event's venue - whether an executive from a major appliance maker, a Google engineer or a young entrepreneur with a Kickstarter concept - agreed that it was only five to 10 years before artificial intelligence had a permanent seat at the dinner table.

The technology will go well beyond a screen on the refrigerator door that lets you 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 kitchen scale.

It could set up the right smoothie recipe based on what is on hand, how much weight you have gained and which fruit you prefer.

The Hestan Cue cookware system on display at the Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle.
The Hestan Cue cookware system on display at the Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle. PHOTO: NYTIMES

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 study of how much you like to pay for certain items, whether you want them organic and if peaches are in season.

Artificial intelligence will eventually understand your cooking needs so well that you need only tell a device you would like to make your grandmother's chicken dish 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 and a smart pan will suggest you turn down the heat before you scorch the onions.

"We're creating new actors in our kitchens," said Ms Rebecca Chesney, research director of Food Futures Lab at the non-profit Institute For The Future 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 added in a speech at the conference, in which she urged participants to think first about what cooks might need in the kitchen and then design the technology to help them.

But based on the buzz at the event, many people see a future in which no one will need to know how to cook at all.

We're creating new actors in our kitchens.

MS REBECCA CHESNEY, research director of Food Futures Lab at the non-profit Institute For The Future in Silicon Valley, on how artificial intelligence will drive cooking and other kitchen-related activities in the future

"You'll get appliances and hardware that let you perform at a higher level of proficiency," said Mr Nikhil Bhogal, founder and chief technical officer of June.

It makes a Wi-Fi-enabled countertop oven that recognises the food you put into it and tells you how to cook it.

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 farm to plate.

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 announced that he was joining a "proprietary connected food platform" start-up 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 what sauce people like on their chicken and if they have chicken in the refrigerator, and give them a recipe for it.

But none of the technical solutions seemed to account for how a cook might consider the ripeness of a pear or the thrill of creating a recipe.

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," said Ms Amanda Gold, a former food journalist who is now a consultant.

Although she embraces technology that brings people back to the kitchen, she noted that 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."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Smart kitchens for the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe