AI-created whisky heralds future where craftsmanship is replaced by computers, says GlobalData

Tech giant Microsoft collaborated with Swedish distillery Mackmyra and Finnish consultancy Fourkind to create the world’s first whisky developed using artificial intelligence (AI). The partnership signals a potentially new wave of innovation whereby craftsmanship becomes displaced by machine learning, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Whisky making is widely revered as an art, involving a complex understanding of a wide range of ingredients, flavor blends and spirit aging to create a high-quality final product. However, using its Azure cloud platform, Microsoft used a combination of existing recipes, sales data and customer preferences to generate a dataset of more than 70 million recipes that it predicts will be popular.

While the final product, which will be available to purchase later this year, was ultimately tested and approved by a Master Blender, the process of creating the recipe was undertaken by a computer.

Katrina Diamonon, Consumer Insights Analyst at GlobalData, says: “Automation is already seen as the future of consumer packaged goods across many functions, from e-Commerce fulfilment, to manufacturing operations to business analytics. However, this AI-created whisky takes automation a step further by taking over a task that is heavily reliant on human sensory systems – particularly the ability to taste and smell.”

Microsoft insists that the whisky does not replace the expertise and knowledge of a Master Blender, who remains crucial to curating the final product.

Preserving the human element of product creation is particularly vital in a category such as whisky, where high quality and an interesting brand narrative are fundamental brand components.

This is evident in GlobalData’s 2018 Q3 global consumer survey, which found one-in-four consumers consider ‘high quality’ food and drinks to mean those that are ‘handmade’ or ‘artisan’, underscoring the value of protecting the human connection to the product.

Diamonon concludes: “Machines will no doubt open up new avenues for recipe creation across a range of CPG categories, efficiently predicting new ingredient combinations that are poised to succeed based on a wealth of available data. However, even if the final product tastes, smells or looks the same as a ‘man-made’ product, brand perceptions may be irreversibly soured if consumers know that the ‘artisan’ responsible for it is actually a robot.

“Consumers rely on information shortcuts to make assessments about a product’s sustainability; focusing entirely on packaging or ‘food miles’ might be easier to process but overlooks the bigger picture. It is the responsibility of brands to communicate their true environmental impact in order to improve consumer understanding and promote transparency. Indeed, in this age of social media-fueled accountability, doing less may ultimately hurt brand image.”

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