13.05.2016

Soon, all our food will be made by vegan robot chefs

TECH | | | | |

(Photo: Morley Robotics)

Yep, vegan. Isaac Asimov’s First Law of Robotics has been updated for 2016: “No robot shall harm a human… Fuck it, let’s go all in… or an animal either”

Our love affair with domestic robots that can service our needs started more than five decades ago with Rosie, the maid in The Jetsons.

 

 

In the utopian, future-gazing animation, Rosie glides around the home handing out capsules containing food pills. The concept of condensing meals into pills may not yet be a staple of our diets, but robots like Rosie could have – and already are having – a significant impact on how we produce and consume food.

Giuseppe is the invention of a group of Santiago-based graduates with engineering and chemistry knowledge, who refer to it as the smartest food scientist on earth. The group recently launched the The Not Company, a brand that’s producing vegan dairy and meat products from mainly plant-based ingredients. This is nothing new of course, but Giuseppe’s role is to use deep machine learning – a form of training – to understand the molecular structure of food and then copy it.

 

The-Not-Company

It’s like milk, but it doesn’t come from a weird bit of a cow (Photo: thenotcompany.com)

 

Essentially, this means Giuseppe can replicate the taste, texture, and even smell, of animal-based products. Early tasting sessions have suggested, for example, that the company’s milk, made from seeds, nuts and peas, is slightly sweeter and creamier than traditional dairy.

“When you get behind the scenes of the food industry, you don’t like what you see. There is a lot of things that we should be knowing… But we are blindsided by a whole industry that is making it hard for us to see what we are really eating. We want people to eat better, but without even knowing,” co-founder Matias Muchnick told Al Jazeera.

The benefit of using computing science to produce something just as good as the real thing, in terms of flavour and aroma, is that it’s far cheaper and environmentally friendly. Some of the best ingredients are the most expensive, and often have excessively long supply chains and big carbon footprints, so using lower quality ingredients, without having to engineer them with GMOs or other nasties, makes perfect sense.

“Artificial intelligence has two huge strengths: the ability to learn and the potential to use almost an unlimited amount of information to make decisions,” says Mike Weston, CEO of London-based science data consultancy Profusion. “Applying machine learning to food production raises the possibility that our entire relationship with food could change dramatically – everything from making production itself ultra-efficient to altering how we buy at the shop or in restaurants.”

Chef Watson is part of IBM’s drive to apply cognitive computing to everyday life. Given a list of ingredients, the machine makes suggestions based on what’s meant to pair well together.

Its knowledge comes from the many cookbooks and theories it has been fed. Over the course of a few years, prior to its launch, the system analysed thousands of existing recipes and chemical flavour compounds.

 

Chef Watson installed in a shiny, red food truck (Photo: IBM.com)

 

“Imagine a chef that [not just] knows every recipe ever written, every flavour combination, [but] every health implication and the science behind the perfect preparation and cooking of a meal. This is what an artificial intelligence-driven chef will have,” says Weston.

“Then scale this down so that the robo-chef cooks for you personally. It means you could have tailored meals that are built around your taste and health preferences. Crucially, the chef learns more about what you like and what is good for you as time goes on. Eventually, you’ll end up with a list of recipes that are perfect for you and will best improve your health. Essentially, having your cake and eating it.”

Moley hasn’t been assigned a name yet, but is the creation of the eponymous company. Unlike other robotics, Moley doesn’t use artificial intelligence. Instead it copies the movements of a chef using motion capture technology.

Its signature dish is a not-very-vegan crab bisque, which it takes less than half an hour to cook. A pair of robotic arms display all the flair of a human chef by whisking and seasoning at the same speed and even pausing to let the dish simmer.

 

Great and everything, but have you ever seen ‘Demon Seed’? Just saying (Photo: Morley Robotics)

 

It can’t yet be trusted with a knife, so all ingredients have to be chopped and prepared in advance, and neither is it intelligent enough to find a utensil if it’s misplaced. However, it could ease the stress we’ve all probably experienced at some point of having to spend an hour slaving over a hot stove after a long commute home.

Whether we should be licking our lips at the thought of having a Moley installed in our homes is debatable. For some of us, cooking and eating is cathartic, while for others, preparing food is simply a means to an end, whatever the method, says Martin Howarth, director of the National Centre of Food Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University: “The question is whether the pleasure of eating is generated by the production, the satisfaction of eating good food or the social interaction of meal times.”

We asked Rosie for her thoughts on the matter, but she just threw a pill at us, told us to “Shut up and eat your dinner”, and then zoomed off.

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