IBM Watson Created a Modern Sculpture Inspired by the Work of One of Spain’s Most Famous Architects

Analyzed thousands of photos of Antoni Gaudí's buildings

This sculpture at Mobile World Congress was based on the Catalan architect's buildings, along with local song lyrics and other writings.
Courtesy of IBM

BARCELONA, Spain—IBM has come up with a way to show off the more artistic side of its artificial intelligence capabilities while honoring one of Spain’s most famous architects.

For this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, IBM tasked its Watson super computer with the understanding Antoni Gaudí’s greatest works such as La Pedrera and la Sagrada Família to help create a unique sculpture for the annual trade show.

Using its visual-recognition technology, Watson reviewed hundreds of images of Gaudí’s buildings, along with additional examples of local architecture to understand trends in composition and inspirations. IBM then tapped Watson’s AlchemyLanguage software to read documents about Gaudí and other architects, along with song lyrics and other documents about the city’s history and culture.

“What we were really trying to do at the essence was figure out if we can programmatically start to understand what the features of a particular style or architect are,” said Jeff Arn, a Watson manager at IBM.

Watson identified key elements of Gaudí’s Catalan modernist style—known for its dream-like colors and shapes and odes to the natural world. For example, Watson identified Gaudí’s use of materials like wrought iron and shapes based on beehives and shells. After Watson’s analysis was complete, IBM gave the findings to Softlab, which turned the ideas into an actual work of art, a dreamy, metallic, rainbow-colored creation that hung from the top of IBM’s booth at the show.

“I think from our perspective, definitely in the design process itself, one of the things that Softlab talked about was that a designer or expert can look at an image, and they can make inferences,” Arn said. “But there were things that came out of the analysis that we did that they really had not considered.”

He mentioned the recurring theme of a crab shell, which Watson noticed time and time again in Gaudí’s work and which ended up becoming the predominant theme of the exterior of the sculpture.

But the sculpture isn’t entirely based on the past. In fact, IBM and Softlab built in a visual representation of real-time social analytics with Watson’s Tone Analyzer API, which kept the pulse of what people at the conference were talking about on Twitter. As topics and emotions rose or fell in popularity, metal chains resembling catenary arches would rise and fall overhead.

“In this case, it’s a very abstract example,” Arn said. “But you can imagine, like with retail, a social media manager for a retail brand can ask, ‘What does our audience think of us, or how are they reacting to a particular comment?’ … It kind of gets you a lot more understanding of who your audience could be based on traits given to you by the way they write on a medium.”

This week, IBM tracked conversations related to topics including robotics, big data, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things and analyzed emotions such as joy and openness that were apparently based on those conversations.

“It’s really interesting for us to see how somebody’s day—especially at a conference—is reflected,” Arn said. “It really does start to match these macro trends we see in the trades themselves.”