Artificial intelligence may be a relatively young field, but pioneering voices in the wine industry are already finding ways to use this technology. Over in New Zealand the Fine Wine Delivery Company has partnered with an AI company called Spacetime to create a system for recommending wines to consumers.
The online wine retailer is run by Jeff Poole who has been sampling and approving potential wines to be sold on the site for 22 years. For Jeff the most important factor after he and his expert team have selected the wines to be listed is the opinion of the consumers who will buy his wines.
“New Zealanders have grown enormously in their understanding of wine, and their appreciation of it”, commented Jeff while reflecting on the rapid growth of consumer knowledge of wine. Jeff hopes that the use of artificial intelligence will help consumers better understand which wines they like, leading to increased satisfaction levels among his customers.
The AI solution that Jeff is using is based on the IBM-developed system known as Watson which is able to understand how we talk. This is crucial as it allows the system to understand the comments of consumers who don’t have a high level of wine knowledge. The system has even been taught to understand slang such as “cab sav” as shorthand for the grape variety Cabernet Sauvignon.
“We ingest everything, and then Watson does something quite smart called enrichment”, explained Dr Peter Catt from Spacetime. “It understands entities – I don’t mean that in a sentient sense, but it understands mathematically that, for example, Barossa is a geographical term. So the enrichment takes place, and then it indexes everything so we can do a quick natural search. I can type in that I’m after a big chocolatey Barossa Shiraz for $50, and I’ll get a result. No other search engine as far as I’m aware can do that”.
The system has also been designed to cope well with complexity. The more descriptors the consumer is able to enter, the more likely it is that the recommended wines will fit their requirements. This information helps the system to narrow down the options it recommends and find a wine which meets all or most of the criteria.
The success of the system is dependent on the information already available on the company’s wines which has been honed by Poole, his daughter Tracey Hawes and son Richard Poole. To deliver this expertise, the three have been made into virtual assistants on the company’s website who can chat with customers and make recommendations as if they were speaking face to face. This helps put a human face on the AI system and makes consumers feel comfortable trusting the recommendations worked out by this cutting-edge technology.