São José dos Pinhais, Brazil —(Map)
A beauty company in Brazil will soon begin selling two brand-new perfumes. But there’s an unusual story behind the perfumes – the smells were created by a computer.
Perfumes, soaps, and other products often contain special scents or smells, called fragrances. Fragrances are often not natural smells, but they’re meant to be pleasant. Fragrances can affect the emotions and moods of the people who smell them. Creating and selling fragrances is a big business, bringing in about $48 billion every year.
IBM is a computer company that has been focusing on Artificial Intelligence (AI). An AI computer program sorts through huge amounts of information, allowing it to find patterns that humans haven’t noticed. The program can then use those patterns to make decisions or come up with new ideas on its own.
IBM’s AI system for fragrances is called Philyra. It can’t actually smell, but it uses lots of different information to find and act on new patterns.
The information Philyra needed came from Symrise – a German company specializing in making fragrances and flavors. Symrise has detailed information on all kinds of materials used to make perfumes. It also has about 1.7 million different formulas – special recipes for making fragrances.
Finally, Symrise was also able to give Philyra information about what kinds of smells people like. For example, the kinds of smells most liked by men, women, or people in different age groups or in different countries.
Usually the work of creating a new scent is done by an expert called a perfumer. Perfumers spend years learning how to make special smells and how people react to those smells.
It can take from six months to four years for a perfumer to create a new fragrance. AI probably won’t replace perfumers, but it can speed up the process of creating a new fragrance.
O Boticário, Brazil’s second-largest beauty store, asked IBM and Symrise to come up with two new perfumes. The company wanted fragrances that millennials (people born in the 1980s and 1990s) would like.
So Philyra began creating new formulas based on patterns it spotted in the information about different materials, different formulas, and the kinds of fragrances people like. Philyra came up with many formulas very quickly. Because a computer doesn’t have the “sense” that a human does, it will try unusual things. It can lead perfumers in directions they wouldn’t normally try.
Symrise’s master perfumer David Apel worked with the AI to create the fragrances. Mr. Apel said that the way Philyra combined different spices with milk and butter was something that he would never have thought of doing.
After choosing the best fragrances that Philyra came up with, Mr. Apel then made a few tiny changes to improve them. Mr. Apel was impressed by the process of working with the AI. “This happened very quickly,” he said.
So how are the new perfumes? When O Boticário tried out its new perfumes on groups of millennials, the perfumes were very popular. They even beat out some famous perfumes. The AI perfumes go on sale June 12.
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