At SIAL Paris 2018, the Future Lab gave us a glimpse into what food might look like in 2030. The journalist, Marie-Léty Burny, interviewed Céline Laisney, Manager of the Food Watch system for AlimAvenir. AlimAvenir is a monitoring and forecasting consultancy for the food system as a whole, and which scrutinises this system's links with all the major digital transformations currently underway.
Céline Laisney has worked with SIAL to present a study of artificial intelligence (AI) as applied to food: two contrasting worlds which have nevertheless found common ground in recent years.
Making up for lost time: the importance of saving time through AI and robots
Robots in our kitchens
The study conducted by AlimAvenir shows that the French like to cook: the countless cookery shows and recipe books are testament to this. According to a survey by the culinary site, Marmiton.org, on the food habits of the French, the population is said to spend 17 minutes on average preparing a meal on weekdays. Over the years, this time has grown shorter and shorter, thanks to the appearance of robots allowing people to save time in the kitchen. What this means is that cooking is becoming a leisure pursuit.
The advent of AI in the home: France in catch-up mode?
In the words of Céline Laisney: "We may be at the dawn of a revolution, of a new technological leap forward, with robots linked up to AI."Yet France still seems to be somewhat reluctant. This may appear surprising, when you consider that a device linked up to AI can make cooking considerably easier: it can order ingredients for us, make associations between foodstuffs, guide us step-by-step through recipes, etc.
Robots in the kitchen for making your life easier
Projects for connected devices and robots that can also multitask are also being driven by French start-ups. Take the start-up, EKIM, for example, with its creations of barista or pizzaiolo robots. More generally, there are culinary robots emerging which are designed to handle repetitive tasks, or tasks considered dangerous (using the oven, electric kitchen tools, knives, etc.).
Top chefs at your service!
As part of its R&D into AI and robots, Sony got several chefs to produce dishes. By simple observation, robots linked up to AI were able to assimilate, all at once, gestures that would have taken humans months to master.
As well as cooking, robots are capable of inventing new recipes. The robot chef, Winston, from IBM, famous for having beaten humans in a US TV game show, studies flavours on the molecular scale, to devise multiple combinations.
This project was studied and developed by FoodPairing, a company that proposes a virtual map of food and wine associations using AI. In other words, let us do away with preconceived ideas: the robot is a source of possibilities and invention.
Can robots and AI take their place seamlessly in our society?
Are Asians more open to this than Europeans and Americans?
A survey conducted in partnership with the BNS (Bureau of Nutritional Sciences) has investigated the acceptability for consumers of using an assistant linked up to AI to help them prepare their food with a view to nutritional coaching. According to Céline Laisney: "We do need to reflect on our actions and whether any unintended effects might be produced. Notwithstanding all these innovations, the potential consequences need to be taken into account."
While 60% of Asian countries are in general said to be interested in AI and robots, only 18% of the French population say they are open to the idea, and only 14% of Americans. The latter results are surprising, since the United States are considered to be a hotbed for the development of artificial intelligence and the creation of connected robots.
Personal data: the (eternal) hot topic?
Once you are equipped with a connected robot linked to AI, it will know all about your food habits and can deduce who you are based on what you eat.
Social and ethical questions
Foreseeable scenarios: a solution or a risk?
In the study conducted by AlimAvenir, futuristic scenarios were conceived of, including one of a human uprising against the robots.
Céline Laisney discovered, in her research, that the premises of this uprising have already been observed in the casinos of Las Vegas. There are lots of robots deployed there, serving as barmen or cleaners, leading to protests from employees.
In the future, this scenario could be played out on a far larger scale. Let us not forget that 5 million people work in fast food in the USA. Replacing them with robots would be a dramatic situation and would almost certainly spark a revolt.
However, since turnover rates are so high in these sectors, on account of the drudgery and insecurity of the work, robotisation and AI could provide a solution for supporting work and not for replacing people.
The talk concluded on the question of the delegation of tasks and of decision-making, which need to be taken into account by manufacturers and distributors, to ensure cohesion between man and machine.