Algorithmic Perfumery

While in Montreal for a conference/vacation, my partner and I went to an amazing exhibit at the Phi Centre. It was called “Hum(AI)n” and explored the idea of “being human in the age of technology.” In case you’re wondering, the (AI) in humain stands for “Artificial Intelligence.”

The exhibit consisted of 5 Virtual Reality (VR) movies, all 15 minutes or less, that covered a range of different experiences and topics, an algorithmic perfumery, and a room where we could interact and speak with an AI digital being, plus a few other things. In one movie, I was a glowing, gold avatar racing across the desert to change the mood of the mob of people constantly around me. In another I watched a short animation of punk music in NYC in the 1970’s. The VR seemed so real that I physically jumped during a scene featuring a NYC subway racing down the tracks and one character who purposefully crossed the yellow line. Even in a VR setting I couldn’t overcome my strong urge to stay far away from a speeding train.

By far my favorite part of the exhibit was the algorithmic perfumery. To start the process, my partner and I each filled out a questionnaire. We were asked about things like our personality, what kinds of things we liked to do, and to assess six sample scents based on our impression of how floral, sweet, woodsy, green, fresh, or sensual/non-sensual we found them. The questions were structured like a Likert scale, but allowed us to slide a dot back and forth on the scale to determine how much we liked, or didn’t like, something.

At the end of the questionnaire, the computer came up with a recipe, customized for each of us.

My partner’s unique scent that he named “Space Junkie.”

Then a small sample of our recipe was mixed right in front of us!

Each bottle to the left of the screen was filled with a particular scent that was used to create our perfumes.

Within minutes, we were presented with a sample, designed just for us. We smelled it, tried it on, then filled out a follow-up questionnaire to evaluate how we liked it, which is how the AI continues to learn for the next people.

Mine was ok, not woodsy or spicy enough. They got my partner’s name wrong on the bottle, but he seemed to like his.

The big question is, can the AI create perfume better than a human?

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