Watson AI’s Newest Integration: Manus X Machina


May 11, 2016

Every year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City hosts the Met Gala to raise funds for exhibitions and other expenses for the rest of the year. At $30,000 a ticket, the event is catered to celebrities, industry elites, athletes, and so on. This year, the gala took on a technological theme due to the opening of an exhibit titled Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. The exhibit houses more than 150 ensembles, dating from the early 20th century to today, that have been delicately crafted by machinery or a combination of machinery and handiwork.

The Met Gala itself attracted all manner of technology-themed dresses ranging from Emma Watson’s dress made from entirely recycled plastic bottles to metal and light up ball gowns. Even more interesting, the garment worn by model Karolina Kurkova was the only one that featured artificial intelligence.


Watson, IBM, and the Cognitive Dress

IBM and fashion house, Marchesa, integrated the cognitive computing system, Watson, into a dress for the event. The “smart” dress is fitted with 150 LED lights fastened to small flowers throughout the garment. At the gala, Watson was programmed to analyze the mood and tone of tweets surrounding the event and change the color of the LEDs to reflect their collective emotions. In real time, the dress would shift from rose to lavender and more.


How it Works:

The team at Marchesa first decided on five emotions for the dress to demonstrate through lighting. From there, the team at IBM began to educate Watson on the fashion history of Marchesa designs, and using that information, along with its Cognitive Color Tool, Watson decided for itself on a color scheme for each emotion.


  • JoyRose
  • PassionCoral
  • ExcitementAqua
  • EncouragementButter
  • CuriosityLavender


At the Gala, Watson analyzed the flood of incoming tweets tagged with #MetGala or #CognitiveDress and used that information to summarize the ebbs and flows of opinions throughout the night.

This proved to be a rather straightforward use of Watson’s potential, but it shows the diversity of its potential applications. Plus, the API used to create the effects was written with future applications in mind. Jeffery Arn, IBM Watson Marketing Manager, explained as much when he said,

“The colors are manipulated by values that are output by one of our APIs. When you build this platform, you build it strategically, you open it up for using it for a wide range of purposes.”

What else falls within that range of purposes is yet to be seen.


Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology

The Gala was held at an exhibit in the Met, and the artistic concepts behind the exhibit blur the lines between man and machine, much like the cognitive dress.

When advertising a product, no one ever touts that it was “machine-made.” On the contrary, hand-made products have always had expectations of quality, luxury, and beauty. It implies that someone devoted their time, attention, and craftsmanship to the creation of a single object. Hand-made items are injected with implicit value, while their mass-produced, machine-made counterparts represent pure commercialization.

One is art. The other is a commodity.

Manus X Machina seeks to dispel these perceptions.


The History Behind the Exhibit

In the 19th century, the sewing machine was invented and very quickly impacted the fashion industry. Suddenly, manufacturers had the ability to mass produce clothing in standardized sizes. These garments eventually received the moniker “ready to wear.”

At the same time, the disparity between the “ready to wear” clothing and personally tailored, elaborate garments gave rise to haute couture. Fashion was elevated to an art form at certain levels.

Manus X Machina wishes to question the distinctions surrounding what is and is not art in fashion. Their primary method here is to focus on processes. Many of the garments featured have been made using highly technical processes including computer modeling, laser cutting, and ultrasonic welding. There is even a dress that has been entirely 3D printed. It’s no wonder the exhibit attracted a technology theme and inspired the Cognitive Dress.

Manus X Machina opened on May 5 and will remain accessible through August 14.

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