IBM Watson, the new voice of art?

Watson, IBM’s highly advanced artificial intelligence, has been getting up to a lot lately. This month, IBM celebrated the opening of its brand new offices in Auckland by hosting a culinary feast courtesy of Chef Watson himself. And while ‘Cheddarlova’—Watson’s cognitive twist on a Kiwi classic—might sound a bit bizarre, it’s just the latest development showcasing the serious impressiveness of the software’s ability to mimic such creative pursuits.

In Brazil, Watson’s capabilities are being extended not to the kitchen, but to its galleries instead. With more than 70 percent of Brazilians reported to have never stepped foot inside a museum, Watson’s software has been used to create an interactive art guide that lets people have conversations with work housed at the Pinacoteca de São Paulo Museum.

“I like art, but I never had the chance to visit a museum. It’s not a place that speaks to me,” explains Cacilda, a 56-year-old housewife in IBM Brazil’s promotional video, echoing a sentiment that art, while nice, can sometimes seem inaccessible. 

In an effort to address this, ‘The Voice of Art’ has made visiting galleries an interactive pursuit, replacing pre-recorded audio guides with a Watson-powered program that gleans data from books, old newspapers, recent articles, biographies, interviews and the internet.

The video by Ogilvy Brazil shows how Watson fields questions that naturally arise for visitors, asking questions such as ‘What’s the historical context?’, ‘What technique was used?’, ‘Who are these figures?’, and in the video’s most endearing moment, a young boy asks ‘Do you like to play soccer?’ in front of a 1934 painting of a shirtless mixed-race man against the backdrop of a coffee farm.

“In 1934, soccer was already huge in Brazil,” replies Watson. “But a field worker like him didn’t have time to play…”

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