Several years ago, I wrote a blog about whether the internet can be used to stimulate all our senses* and how there are examples of technology being used to generate scents, create flavours and produce touchable interfaces for people with visual impairments.
Reading about Google Lens and its experiments in combining image and text search, it made me realise that Google and artificial intelligence (AI) are not only stimulating our senses, but simulating them as well.
Sight, hearing, scent, touch and taste are known as our five senses of perception, and are in many ways what make us living entities and differentiate us from inanimate objects. For those working in the AI sector, the goal is to make AI tools increasingly “perceptive” so that they can make sense of the world around us, and use this understanding to aid human lives.
Through tools like the image recognition techniques of Google Lens, we can see that Google is increasingly mastering “sight” and is capable of identifying images. We also have speech recognition, which is the driving force behind virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri and shows how computers can interpret and respond to sound. Speech recognition actually dates back to the 1950s, and even Shazam, which wows us by “hearing” songs and telling us what they are, turns 20 years old this year.
What about scent, touch and taste though? Will there come a day when Google is able to smell that your toast is burning? Could it feel two pieces of sandpaper and tell you which one is rougher? Maybe you could even “feed” it a mushroom you found in the woods and get advice on whether it was edible or not?
There is certainly work in progress to achieve this. Last year, scientists in Massachusetts, USA published a study claiming that they had managed get AI to detect odours in a similar way to the brain. There have also been experiments with the somewhat creepy-sounding “electric tongues” to allow machines to perceive taste.
Indeed, perhaps we have to decide for ourselves whether the creepiness of this sort of work outweighs the potential benefits. In his final years, the late Professor Stephen Hawking was vocal about his reservations on AI and the dangers of machines superseding humans.
Current AI has its limitations, and as we said yesterday, there are ways in which content and web design techniques can help Google and other search engines to understand your website. If you’d like assistance with this, why not speak to the Engage Web team?