Would you drink a whisky designed and created by artificial intelligence?
This fall, this hypothetical question becomes a reality, as popular award-winning Swedish whisky distillery Mackmyra releases the first ever whisky, a single malt, designed with machine learning.
Working in collaboration with Microsoft and Fourkind, a Finnish technology consultancy specializing in AI spearhead projects, the distillery has made the claim that this is the first ever machine-learning designed complex consumer product recipe.
So what’s the process? The distillery’s machine learning models running off of Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Computing platform and AI cognitive services will be fed raw data related to whisky production (including malting, fermentation, distillation, and maturation), Mackmyra’s historical recipes, sales numbers, and customer preferences. The result will be whisky designed for both flavor and customer demand, generated from more than 70 million possible recipes.
Jarno Kartela, Machine Learning Partner at Fourkind, describes two different sets of algorithms that can generate potentially successful and delicious whiskies.
“Although lacking human expertise, we can teach machines to understand what elements previous recipes and products are made of and how they are perceived and ranked by customers and experts”, he explains on the Microsoft website.
“With this as a raw data asset, we can leverage a combination of explorative algorithms to generate endless new recipes and products and then use a set of discriminative algorithms to understand which of them might be great, repeating until better recipes are not found. This requires a lot from the computation side, as we need millions of iterations while keeping track of what worked and what did not before reaching a solid guess of a good new whisky.”
The aim of these machine guesses is to find new combinations of techniques and ingredients that normally wouldn’t be thought about by humans. Though in the 80s many distillery workers lost their jobs as more of the whisky-making process was automated and handed to computers (on top of distilleries closing down), the more niche position of master blender is less threatened in this case. Human senses, after all, are still the most important factor that decides just how good a whisky is. Mackmyra master blender Angela D’Orazio doesn’t feel that she is about to lose her job to the robots and expressed her happiness to be a mentor for the world’s first ever AI whisky.
Mackmyra is pushing the whisky as being created by AI but human-curated, with d’Orazio having the final decision over approving the final result. Though the whisky won’t be out for a few months yet, the profile of the Mackmyra AI Whisky is described as possessing herbal notes of aniseed, ginger, and white pepper and a citrusy, spicy mouth with a dry finish.
However, the implications of this new product and its design method could go far beyond whisky.
“This AI-generation can have an impact in different industries globally,” says Kartela, “I envision AI systems generating recipes for sweets, perfumes, beverages, and maybe even sneaker designs. Many of these have already been attempted, but large-scale adoption is still lagging behind.”