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Can A Machine Judge Taste Better Than A Human?

26 September 2014

According to MarketWatch, wine is big business with over 31 billion 759 ml bottles bought and sold worldwide each year.

Clearly, wine is a big part of the human experience. For centuries, people have chosen their wines on the basis of personal taste experience or the recommendations of friends.

Many turn to the opinions of wine critics.Their educated palates are so revered that a critic’s favorable review can successfully launch a new wine or boost sales for a wine that has languished in relative obscurity until reviewed.

But before a consumer or critic uncorks and tastes a wine, vintners face the challenge of producing wine that meets their standards. Until now, that effort has rested with whatever professional tasting panel is assessing the wine. And that tasting process only takes place at the back end of the process when the wine is ready.

Now scientists in Denmark have come up with a way to insert robotics into the process. They say that robotics will enable the composition of wine to be controlled from the very beginning. (As an added bonus, the technology is so sensitive that it is expected to also be applicable for diagnostics and in the development of targeted medicines.) The economic stakes could be huge.

But, a recent article in Tech Crunch introduced questions about the human aspect of the wine experience. The alarm was sounded that this technology could ultimately “unseat” wine critics by scientifically and objectively analyzing how a wine will taste.

Depending on which side you take, the robot either (wisely) removes “human inaccuracy” or (unwisely) the human element that is so important to the experience of wine.

Once this discussion moves out of the halls of science and wine trade circles, we expect that everyone from wine drinkers to technology enthusiasts to Luddites will ultimately ring in on this. That’s because humans have a special relationship with wine. It’s the beverage that’s more that a drink. It’s part of how we celebrate life, family and friends.

As winemaker Robert Mondavi once observed: “Wine has been a part of civilized life for some seven thousand years. It is the only beverage that feeds the body, soul and spirit of man and at the same time stimulates the mind.”

How will robotics change the tasting and production process of wine?

Maybe this is a question less about science and more about the human experience.

What do you think?

BY Terry Johnson
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