‘Beyond beating people at Jeopardy’: Artificial Intelligence takes on the human senses

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Credit: Space Cadet
Credit: Space Cadet

Even the smartest computers cannot fully understand the world without the ability to see, hear, smell, taste or touch. But in the decadeslong race to make software think like humans—and beat them at “Jeopardy!”—the idea of endowing a machine with humanlike senses seemed far-fetched. Not anymore.

Aryballe, an AI software startup based in France, combines biosensors and machine learning to imitate the process our brains use to identify and differentiate between odors, an area known as digital olfaction. While the sensor picks up odor molecules in the air and encodes them into data representing unique digital signatures, neural networks mix and match that data within a massive database of previously analyzed traits, such as rancid, sweet, fruity or vinegary, or unique combinations. 

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Scientists at International Business Machines Corp.’s research division in Zurich are developing a pocket-size device, dubbed Hypertaste—also called an electric tongue—that consists of electrochemical sensors made of an array of electrodes. Set on the edge of a glass, the device’s electrodes respond to different molecules in liquids that give wine or soda a unique taste, creating a code of electrical signals that become the drink’s “digital fingerprint.”

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