Denmark-based brewing giant Carlsberg has reported good progress in its attempts to turn Microsoft's Azure AI into a robot beer sniffer.
The project, which kicked off earlier this year, was aimed at cutting the time a beer spends in research and development by one-third, thus getting fresh brews into the hands of drinkers faster ... and their beer tokens into the pockets of Carlsberg.
The director and professor of yeast and fermentation for Carlsberg, Joch Förster, has been tasked with the seemingly enviable job of tasting a lot of beer as the brewer tries out new flavours. In reality, however, ploughing through hundreds of samples isn't really practical. Hence Förster and his team have turned to sensors and AI to predict what a beer will taste like.
Carlsberg is a poster-child for Microsoft, having shunted 500 servers on to Azure, jumped aboard the Office 365 bandwagon and pressed go on Windows 10. Turning the dead-eyed gaze of Microsoft's AI platform to the making of its beer was, perhaps, the next logical step.
While Förster and his team are only six months into the three-year project, they reckon their sensor and AI combo is now able to differentiate between different pilsners and other lagers. As, to be fair, could the majority of hacks hard at work at Vulture central. Förster, however, plans to continue to develop the machine learning algorithms to better measure the smell and tastes produced by the fermentation, with tweaks aimed at allowing brewers that are not so tech-savvy to use the toys.
The UK's Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) raised an eyebrow at the idea of a robot brewer picking out flavours that might work. Its chief communications officer, Tom Stainer, welcomed the development and the prospect of better beers, but struck a note of caution:
One of the delights of beer appreciation is the unexpected alchemy that comes from the skill and creative input of human brewers – and it would be a shame if this is the first step in a process to replace that human instinct in the brewhouse.
It isn't only hop-infused brewers, shuffling around bubbling vats, that face "assistance" from AI. Publicans could well find themselves running "connected bars". Carlsberg has inflicted IoT devices on 30 pubs to track data on the storage conditions of beer kegs (such as temperature) as well as stock levels. Such tracking is aimed at ensuring the beer remains in good condition and profits stay healthy.
Having suffered many an iffy ale in the past, The Reg expects such IoT integration to include a device that exhorts publicans to keep their beer lines clean.
Otherwise all the AI in the world will not make up for the crushing disappointment of a bad pint. ®