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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ennis

Eye on AI - February 21st, 2020

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


This week’s “Eye on AI” takes a bite out of the intersection of our relationship with food and new technology, specifically the ongoing transition of our kitchens, eating habits, and relationship with food as new food technologies continue to emerge.

Practical AI Cooking Advances Reduce Spending, Waste and Cooking Time

We begin with a fascinating article out of Synced, titled “How AI Is Changing Your Kitchen,” in which reporter Kelly Xie outlines three new ways AI is helping consumers save time, food and money in the kitchen while providing them with new methods for health-conscious recipe and flavor discovery.

The first method, developed by Facebook, is a system that can reverse–engineer food recipes simply by analyzing the image of a dish users hopes to prepare. While the technology isn’t yet fail-safe, as ingredients are occasionally missed, Facebook’s system is able to deduce picture-based recipes more accurately than similar technologies. This technology would pair spectacularly with many of Facebook’s photo-driven sub-companies like Instagram. The second method, created by IBM Research and McCormick & Company, is a more unique AI system that helps developers efficiently and effectively create new flavours by pairing existing flavours based on accumulated data over decades of food operations.

While the previous two methods are certainly interesting, it’s the third method that seems to have the most immediate practical value to your typical consumer, which is an AI-driven recipe creation system based on the ingredients already available in your kitchen.

“Based on algorithms built on databases with flavor tags, ingredient processing methods and recipe steps, the practical system recommends recipes based on available ingredients and the user’s personal preferences and requirements re flavours, nutritional values, and cooking methods,” writes Xie. “Users can interface via personal assistants such as Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa.”

This technology could change the entire cooking game, saving users money, preventing food spoilage, and reclaiming hours (days? weeks? months?) of time users spend grocery / recipe-hunting. Combined with something like Samsung’s new inventory-tracking AI technology, this kind of technology could prove to be revolutionary in reducing food waste in more tech-advanced countries.

AI-App Looks to Map Your Best Gut Diet Profile

Let’s continue with an article out of The Spoon, titled “Viome’s CTO on why Gut Microbes plus AI can Reveal Perfect Diet,” in which reporter Catherine Lamb describes how nutrition startup Viome uses AI in combination with gut microbes through their app to theoretically map out an individual’s ideal diet.

“We at Viome look at RNA (gene expression, or what your genes are actually doing within your body) which is dynamic and changes all the time,” says Viome CTO Guru Banavar. “It’s a better indicator of overall wellness and chronic disease. Since any two humans share [more than] 99 percent the same DNA, but only about 5 percent of the same microbial DNA, each person’s microbiome is incredibly unique — what works for you may not work for me.” (video here.)

Viome raised $25M in funding this time last year with the help of Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, perhaps answering affirmative to the question of whether personalized food profiles are the next big thing in food. What’s fascinating about this technology is its long-term potential. It’s more than just ‘best food’ recommendations. If the technology is proven to accurately map an individual’s ideal diet plan based on gut microbes, think of the countless other use cases that information might lead to, such as disease-prevention diets, strength-enhancement diets, longevity diets, food / gut microb disease relations, etc. That’s a very big if, of course, as a number of scientists note the serious lack of evidence in both gut microb food predictions and the accuracy of Viome’s AI mapping, with one UC Davis professor going so far as to call Viome the “Thernos of the microbiome world.” The user-provided stool sample required for analysis doesn’t help, but that seems a small price to pay for the benefits should the science prove to be reliable. Right now, with all the conflicting information, this all feels a bit confusing, but is certainly something to keep your eye on.

How Is All My Personal Data Being Used By Restaurants / Food Services, Anyway?

There has been a lot of talk this week about the benefits of data collection in food and food services markets, so it only makes sense to end with an article detailing the uncertainty users are feeling in understanding just how food companies are actually using their data. According to The Spoon’s Jennifer Marston, in her article “Report: 56% of Consumers Want to Know How Restaurants Use Their Data,” more and more food-based consumers are beginning to question where all that data goes.

“Over half of consumers, 56 percent, want to know more about how restaurants use their personal information,” writes Marston. “Currently, less than half (37 percent) say they trust food service brands not to misuse their personal data. At the same time, restaurant customers seem more willing to part with personal data if it means getting an easier, faster, more personalized experience with a restaurant. As one survey respondent noted, ‘The benefits of using technology to order/pay for food and beverages from restaurants outweigh the risks to my personal data.’”

That final survey response is worth repeating: “The benefits of using technology to order/pay for food and beverages from restaurants outweighs the risks to my personal data.” This seems to be the case with every data-driven company’s relationship with consumers. Ease of use, at least in AI-driven technologies, most often comes as a result of the open sharing and analysis of personal data. The truth of the matter is that as of right now, it’s often difficult to know exactly where and how that data is being used. Users are granting companies unprecedented trust handing over personal data, which may more may not be deserved. If this data-collection trend is to continue, particularly in the restaurant industry, companies will need to find better ways of building trust with their target audience. With data is their best competitive asset, data breaches or misuse could have devastating trust ramifications, hurting both the companies and the consumers.

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