An early prototype of the cognitive dress from Marchesa and IBM.


Can a robot create art? More specifically, can a “cognitive system” create couture? IBM says yes.

The computer giant gave the task to its Watson cognitive system, which is known for winning “Jeopardy” in 2011. A cognitive system, according to IBM, is something that can can ingest and learn from a variety of data, reason over it, and then interact with people in a seemingly natural way.

Watson worked with Marchesa designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig to create a dress that is set to appear (on an as yet unnamed celebrity) at Monday’s Met Gala. While the actual dress silhouette was imagined by the humans, many details depended on Watson.

The finished product is called a cognitive dress, and it was created to coincide with this year’s Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibition theme, Manus x Machina, devoted to fashion in the technology age.

While the final creation, and the person wearing it, won’t be revealed until it hits the red carpet, IBM did share details on how it was made, starting with the color. Marchesa provided hundreds of images of past designs and celebrities wearing Marchesa to the cognitive color tool, which identifies emotional ties to color. They were then able to land on a color palette that the team thought reflected the brand and triggered the emotions the designers hoped to inspire.

Then, in selecting the fabric, Marchesa used a combination of seven Watson services: keyword extraction, concept tagging, taxonomy, sentiment analysis, relationship extraction, linked data and entity extraction. These services helped the designers weigh various material compositions, weights and qualities.

Finally, the Cognitive Dress was imbedded with LED lights that change colors in response to the online conversation surrounding the Met Gala. It’s powered by Watson Tone Analyzer, which uses social sentiment from Twitter.

The process, which is more performance art than practical, shows what can be done. The look will join other tech-friendly dresses on the red carpets and runways. In 2010, Katy Perry arrived at the Met Gala wearing an LED dress made by London’s CuteCircuit, and Zac Posen recently worked with Google’s Made with Code on an LED dress that Coca Rocha wore during New York Fashion Week. But it’s not all LEDs, all the time. Designer Francis Binonti, in 2013, made a 3D-printed dress for Dita von Teese.

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