New robot wine taster threatens real critics
Following its success with a car that drives itself, I have learned, through my sources in Silicon Valley, that Google is secretly working on a robotic wine sensing machine, using artificial intelligence software that can mimic if not surpass the actual blind tasting abilities of the greatest wine critics.
The machine, which is said to physically resemble C-3PO, the robot from Star Wars, already has tasted more than 1,000 wines, without any form of human interaction, and correctly identified 99.87% of them.
The machine, which is nicknamed “Lobby” because it was conceptualized during a company party in Google’s lobby, also rates the wines it tastes, using the familiar 100-point system. Google programmed hundreds of thousands of scores from the world’s most famous wine critics, including Robert Parker and (ahem), myself, into Lobby’s database, using special algorithms that enable Lobby to search through it, seeking similar words and phrases, and assigning score numbers based on “hits.”
According to my source, the differences between Lobby’s scores and mine are “statistically insignificant.”
It’s not clear what Google plans to do with Lobby. My source, who is an engineer affiliated with the project, says the company is considering creating an online wine magazine using Lobby as its critic. Google then will argue that Lobby is actually better than a real, living wine critic, since he [it?] has no mind and cannot think, making him [it] immune to subjective factors.
According to the engineer, “Lobby is the perfect wine critic. He has the I.Q. of a penguin. He has no opinions, and in fact isn’t even conscious. All he can do is review wine. And he can do it all day and all night long, requiring only an occasional rinsing of his intake tube.”
The launching of Lobby represents, in the eyes of some analysts, Google’s long-awaited “second act” — the search for a major revenue source beyond the advertising its search product generates. With existing print wine magazines in a weakened position, and wine blogging having shown its inability to generate revenue, Google may be attempting to make a big play in the wine world. Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman/ceo, has been seen frequently in Napa Valley and in Bordeaux, and is known to have recently invested in Crushpad, the custom winemaking facility.
The amount of effort and resources poured into the development of Lobby suggests that Google is taking the machine very seriously. My engineer source also tells me that Lobby understands and can speak in eleven languages, including Mandarin, Urdu, Bengali, Hebrew, German and, of course, English. There are plans for a personalized wine reviewing application, MyLobby, that can be downloaded to a computer or cell phone. If the effort is a success, Schmidt has told insiders he plans to construct a new center on the Google campus; its main entrance will be called The Lobby Lobby.
“This project is still in the experimental stage, but it does provide a glimpse of what wine reviewing might look like in the future. The implications are staggering,” my source says. “Google wants to take over the world, and wine might be the way they do it.”