We welcome our new tastemaking robot overlords: IBM launches artificially intelligent product prediction app

Here’s a psychic skeptics will struggle to debunk: IBM has developed an app that trawls customer conversations on the internet to help retailers and shoppers to understand which products will be popular. And it has already picked which items will be hot commodities for Christmas 2015.

Using an artificially intelligent computer system, Watson Trend collates and analyses data from millions of online conversations across the internet daily, such as social media sites, reviews, and forums, and provides a ranking of popular products.

Similar IBM Watson technology amazed audiences in 2011 when it outperformed human opponents on American quiz show Jeopardy.

The app is free for download from Apple’s app store, but it might not have much of an application for the New Zealand market – yet.

IBM New Zealand technology strategy advisor Isuru Fernando says Watson Trend is based on online conversations primarily from North America at the moment, with plans to expand to other geographies and languages in the future.

“Having said that, the app analyses tens of millions of data points from global social media conversations, reviews and comments to uncover not just what’s trending, but why it’s trending, and forecast how trends will change in the next 21 days,” Fernando says. “This is valuable if certain products are gaining in popularity in a particular region, and the reasons behind the trend could translate to another region.”

The technology in Watson Trend is similar to Chef Watson, IBM says, which is being used by Kiwi celebrity chef Simon Gault in his new restaurant.

The computer system suggests food and flavour combinations to give chefs inspiration, drawing on information from 10,000 recipes on file. It uses the recipes to make decisions on things like food pairings and nutritional details.

The shopping trends identified by Watson Trend for Christmas are:

  • Lego is going to be in popular demand this holiday season, particularly with Star Wars The Force Awakens movie coming out. Watson predicts three sets will sell out: Star Wars, Lego City and Friends.
  • ‘Barefoot running’ or ‘natural running’ shoes are a huge trend at the moment, according to Watson. However, shoe owners are also valuing the products’ colour and design, as well as the versatility of the product, e.g. if it can go from casual everyday wear to athletic wear.
  • Hello Barbie is another item Watson is predicting will sell out, as it reckons it’s at the top of parents’ gift-giving lists. Hello Barbie lets kids have a two-way conversation with her.
  • Wearable accessories are the top of the wishlist for gamers and movie lovers, with excitement identified around the new Minecraft Gameband, as well as Oculus Rift, which isn’t yet for sale.
  • Smartphone photographers will be looking to upgrade to proper photography cameras. The Nikon D-SLR camera will be the number one choice for beginners.

This story originally appeared on The Register

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