Friday, July 2, 2021

More Baloney about AI


Some years ago, in What the Nose Knows, I wrote about e-noses and their value to us in the future. I thought it was a rather mixed bag: 

At some point in the development of these fusions of silicon and biology, the question becomes not whether the e-nose can replace the human nose, but whether we want it to. Would I let an e-nose sniff-scan me for lung cancer? Sure. Would I use a robotic odor sentinel? Maybe, especially if I had a B.O. problem. But do I really want my refrigerator to tell me, “I’m sorry, Avery, I can’t let you eat those cold cuts”?

(For full effect you have to imagine the fridge speaking in the voice of HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

I remain a fridge-primitivist: I recently bought one that not only isn’t “smart” but has no automatic ice-cube maker. Still, the dream lives on for some people including Ashok Prabhu Masilamani, founder of Canadian tech company Stratuscent which makes a chip that can detect various volatile molecules in the air. He’s quoted in today’s WSJ in an article by Benoit Morenne headlined “A new frontier of AI-enabled gadgets.”

E-noses could also be integrated in smart fridges to detect early signs of expiring food and guide users to items that will expire next, says Dr. Masilamani. Scientists at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore have developed a colored bar code that reacts to gasses from decaying food and a bar code reader that uses AI models to predict food freshness, according to a study published in the Advanced Materials journal in October.

The dream never dies . . .

The WSJ piece also discusses AI-enabled toilets that can analyze your stool sample at the time of delivery. Again, imagine the AI toilet speaking with the voice of HAL:

“Avery, you need to cut back on the kimchi. I have made you an appointment with a gastroenterologist.”

On second thought it would be much better if the AI spoke with the accent of an 18th Century royal physician in England:

“Good news. A fetid and a stinking stool.”
[Assembled colleagues nod in agreement.]
“The colour good, well shaped, and a prodigious quantity.”

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