Making computers more human: how technology is adopting human senses

The now-mainstream technologies of image and sound recognition have given computers eyes and ears, but how close are robots to developing all five human senses? The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything section recently took a dive into the technologies attempting to duplicate human senses in machines.

Alongside innovations like electric tongues, AI-generated visuals and noise-distinguishing cochlear implants, Aryballe’s digital olfaction technology was highlighted as an advancement in imitating human smell. Aryballe’s approach combines biosensors with machine learning to imitate the process our brains use to identify and differentiate between odors. These sensors capture odor fingerprints and then match them to a database of previously analyzed odors to help companies improve R&D formulation, reduce cost of quality and improve end-customer experiences.

Aryballe’s CEO Sam Guilaumé shared some examples with WSJ of how digital olfaction can be used, such as detecting spoiled goods or shutting off an oven before food burns. He also pointed to detecting counterfeit fragrances, saying, “Chanel No. 5 is supposed to smell a certain way. While a fake at first smells similar, we can be absolutely sure it’s not Chanel.”

Scent is a vital part of the human experience, impacting the emotions we associate with events and products. However, this creates complexity as human noses are still the best method to capture olfactive data–introducing subjectivity into many business processes that rely on objective data for decisions. As machines become more capable of recreating this human sense, objective odor data can be harnessed as a business asset.

This post is based on Angus Loten’s and Kevin Hand’s Wall Street Journal article “How computers with humanlike senses will change our lives,” published on July 8, 2021.