May 23, 2019updated 24 May 2019 9:02am

AI whisky signals machine creep into craftsmanship – but will consumers resist?

By Lucy Ingham

A whisky developed using artificial intelligence (AI) is demonstrating how even tasks requiring a high level of craftsmanship can be automated.

The result of a partnership between Microsoft, Finnish consultancy Fourkind and Swedish distillery Mackmyra, the whisky was formulated using existing recipies, sales data and customer reviews. This produced a dataset of over 70 million recipes that were then refined to produce a final blend.

The resulting product was tested and approved by a Master Blender – a highly skilled position – but was developed entirely by AI. And for some, it is being seen as proof that even craftsmanship is not safe from automation.

“Automation is already seen as the future of consumer packaged goods across many functions, from e-commerce fulfilment, to manufacturing operations to business analytics,” said Katrina Diamonon, consumer insights analyst at GlobalData.

“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.”

Will consumers accept an AI whisky recipe?

The AI whisky will go on sale towards the end of this year, and while some will certainly buy the product for novelty reasons, it remains to be seen whether many consumers will accept it – particularly given the value placed in artisan goods within the wider luxury market.

Given the potential of the technology within the wider consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, the whisky will likely be a key test case for future products.

“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,” said Diamonon.

“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.”

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