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Advancements in Artificial Intelligence are happening every single day, and in the latest news, researchers at Google have taught AI how to identify certain smells. Google researchers have been busy training neural AI networks with a new way of predicting how a molecule smells based on its chemical structure. So we were pretty excited when learning this, because we imagined that Google was building a big nose for its AI machine. Alas, we were most certainly in the wrong. So, what use is the fact that AI can now recognize certain smells? 

The nose always knows

Technically the team at Google have trained AI to identify the smell profile of a molecule by using graph neural networks, but that’s not going to stop us from making awful jokes about noses throughout this article. 

Google researchers, with the help of perfume experts, created labels to identify the smells that can be used to pinpoint a molecule’s olfactory properties. Now, Google has its own perfume – well, a Google research team has a perfume, with notes of vanilla, jasmine, melon, and strawberries. Frankly, it sounds kind of gross. Anybody else remember when celebrities were all releasing their own perfumes? Worse than that. 

All jokes aside, this is actually a massive breakthrough in the science of smell – which generally lags far behind other sciences. It’s actually shockingly difficult to determine a molecule’s odor based on its chemical structure. Make just one small change to an atom or remove a bond, and suddenly “you can go from roses to rotten eggs,” says Alex Wiltschko, the leader of the research team behind the project. 

The research team gathered close to 5000 descriptions of scents from expert perfumers, and then matched each molecule to a description like “woody,” “sweet,” or “jasmine.” They then used about two-thirds of the data set to train the neural network and tested whether it could accurately predict the scents of the remaining one-third of molecules. It did, and AI can now recognize certain smells. 

Check out this satirical video from Google in 2013 – is this foreshadowing or what? 

Will AI be the perfumer of the future?

This research doesn’t tell us too much yet, but is definitely a step in the right direction for the science of scents. We don’t actually know much about why the brain processes certain smells like it does, so hopefully this AI break through can help us shed some light on that in the near future. So, now that AI can recognize certain smells, will it be the perfumer of the future? Probably not anytime soon.