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Where AI and fashion cross paths

Designers Falguni and Shane Peacock use IBM's cognitive tool to map the future of Bollywood fashion. But can it make for a showstopper?

A model in Falguni and Shane Peacock’s collection.  Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.
A model in Falguni and Shane Peacock’s collection. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.

In 2011, when IBM Watson first won Jeopardy!, the popular American quiz show, it was the triumph of Artificial Intelligence (AI) over the show’s human participants. Since then, Watson, a supercomputer with deep research capabilities and the power of cognition, has ventured into the fields of biotechnology, banking, communication, robotics and medicine.

Now Mumbai-based fashion designers Falguni and Shane Peacock have collaborated with Watson, creating designs that were showcased at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai last week. Sriram Raghavan, director of IBM Research India, unpacks the process: “The way it works is that we teach Watson to understand fashion blogs, reviews, colour, silhouettes. We build an ontology of fashion language, like what does A-line mean, what does mandarin neck mean, infusing it with a deep level of expertise." Once “super charged", it works like a fashion expert, providing research as well as suggestions and visual representations.

Watson was fed over 600,000 images from fashion weeks that have been held over the last decade in Milan, New York, Paris and Tokyo, plus Bollywood data from the last four decades. Then Falguni and Shane worked with the tool to design a line called the Future Of Bollywood Fashion. “Let’s say you ask Watson about the little black dress. It will respond with images of the dress, along with when and where it was shown," says Shane.

The designs showcased were two structured, sci-fi silhouettes in the Watson-generated colour palette of raisin black and Yankees blue (pictured here). The third, the showstopper, modelled by actor Pooja Hegde, was a textured grey gown paired with silver pumps.

“If I had to travel and collect data and inspiration, it would take me months, but with Watson you get answers in seconds. It’s like a third person sitting with you and telling you that you can actually use this’s more than a tool, it’s another person," adds Shane. But while a human studio assistant would find it hard to match Watson’s research capabilities, its creative role remains ambiguous.

Speed, accuracy and data collection hardly seem like the recipe for a path-breaking line of clothing.

Watson’s contribution in other industries seems a lot more fascinating. For instance, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York has been using Watson to “augment" cancer care since 2013. And in a recent project, Watson was used by students of the Maharashtra Institute of Technology, Pune, to create Chintu, a robot that assists senior citizens in everyday chores. The role of AI in these cases reveals an immediate connect. In the whimsical world of fashion, however, Watson’s nascent intelligence could use some imagination.

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