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Artist Stephen Holding paints a mural for recent World of Watson event.

Artist Stephen Holding paints a mural for recent World of Watson event.

By Ying Li

In the same way ingredients connote flavors, colors and images can indicate moods and send messages.

This concept is driving new research here at IBM to better understand color relationships and their potential impact on everything from product design to classroom layouts.

Machines have been able to render different colors since the first color monitors. With a mix of code numbers for red, green, and blue, a computer knows that “0, 0, 0” equals black, that “255, 255, 0” is yellow, and so on. Other codes represent hue, saturation, and brightness of a color as well.

We are adding machine learning algorithms on top of these standard color representations to open up an entirely new way for a computer to see and understand the world. For example, a photo of a nature scene would mean more than combinations of green, such as “organic” or perhaps “serene.”

The meaning we humans associate between color and imagery has been studied for years. People usually feel one way on seeing an image of a grassy field, but completely different when presented with an image of a dollar bill, even though they’re both green.

Using Watson, we are building a system that learns about these associations by mining thousands of images cataloged in a database. We are also feeding it prior research on colors and their psychological effects, as well information from ongoing interviews we’re conducting. The system keeps getting better and better at knowing what colors are in the images it’s looking at, and what those colors mean in the context of the image.

We translated the system’s artistic and academic knowledge into design-message combinations such as “red represents confidence,” “yellow means innovation,” and “gray equates to futurism,” among many others. The system then applies the principles of color psychology, analyzes academic studies on computational aesthetics, and explores the interactions between different messages using natural language process techniques to produce a set of novel, visually appealing color palettes that communicate a chosen message.

Artist Stephen Holding used the systems to create the recent World of Watson mural. The resulting palette of color combinations were based on the meaning he wanted to convey in his design. As you can see in the photo above, he might have tuned “creativity” to its highest level.

Our next goal is to give the system the ability to offer design suggestions, too. We think that training the system to understand other visual elements such as shape, texture, form, space, depth, and line will expand creative and artistic capabilities.

Ying Li, IBM Research

Ying Li, IBM Research

A perfumery recently reached out to us, asking for help to redesign the bottle of a poor-selling cologne. It smelled good, but no one liked the packaging.

We’re also exploring with retailers ways to put this technology into the hands of shoppers. Think of it as a way to assist you in not just choosing styles, but the image you want to portray. From professional to casual, or even geographical region, the system can recommend garments and accessories with specific color combinations that match your message. That’s the kind of creative power of color we hope this technology unleashes.

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June 15, 2015
12:27 pm

Very interesting! It’s always inspiring to see technology mingled with such human concepts, the joining of the two in perfect harmony.

Posted by: Telematic Controls
June 10, 2015
4:52 am

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Posted by: agrieconomics
June 5, 2015
7:47 am

Wao! this is a brilliant idea all together.looking forward to know more about this idea. Our kids will definitely be happy to learn more…

Posted by: larmat
June 5, 2015
4:15 am

Hope these will help our children in primary school who recently are being introduced to the computers

Posted by: Dorcas Nduati
June 1, 2015
8:03 am

Hello IBM,
Good Working Ying Li

Posted by: Maxim SEM
May 29, 2015
1:09 pm

This would be very powerful… Adding Color to Watson. Along with voice and text understanding, now we can provide a compelling set of capability to Watson just like Human Cognition.

Posted by: Sandeep K. Desai
May 29, 2015
6:37 am

I am loving this !!!!!

Posted by: Absa
May 28, 2015
6:27 am

Another brilliant idea being made to work. Thank you so much. will definitely follow you and find out what come of it.

Posted by: cavs
May 27, 2015
2:26 pm

Help Watson seeing. That’s great

Posted by: Aitor Goirigolzarri
May 27, 2015
2:07 am

Nice idea.

Posted by: Vinay
May 26, 2015
8:56 pm

Yingli and Anshul, Congratulations — this is indeed very interesting.


Posted by: Arun Hampapur
May 26, 2015
12:40 am

It is amazing what Watson can do. Perhaps the next step would be to apply it to sound, music, melodies. Imagine Watson helping artists to create music, songs!

Posted by: Angela Liu Kiat
May 25, 2015
11:15 pm

This is wonderful, willing to learn more. Thanks.

Posted by: Sophy Guo
May 25, 2015
12:27 pm

We would like to know more about this concept. Please, let me know where i can follow for the same.

This is a nice concept

Posted by: Kamal Sewani
2 Trackbacks
June 7, 2016
1:39 pm

[…] come up with never-before-eaten recipes. It also assists artists and helped one color coordinate a mural, and another make a cognitive dress for the Met Gala in New York. Now researchers are working to […]

Posted by: THINK Training Watson To Be Your Musical Muse
June 18, 2015
7:00 am

[…] In the most futuristic scenario, computers might be able to advise on the creation of new art works. IBM, for example, has started to experiment with ways to integrate cognitive computing with different artistic endeavors. At the recent World of Watson event in New York City, the Watson supercomputer advised a human artist (Stephen Holding) on color palette and color psychol…. […]

Posted by: Why it matters that computers are now able to judge human creativity - The Washington Post
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