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  • Rikki Lambert

Drinkers discover dystopian future - Barossa beer brewed by robots

In an event as yet* not Terminated by a futuristic cyborg, University of Adelaide scientists with Barossa Valley Brewing will release a beer entirely brewed by artificial intelligence in early 2022.

A new South Australian craft beer has been designed entirely by AI, thanks to a special project from the University’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML) partnering with Barossa Valley Brewing.

As part of their machine learning internship, computer science students Christopher Fusco and Jash Vira, created a neural network that was able to learn how to make beer by studying a vast trove of brewing records. The result is a unique AI-designed IPA which will be available for sale from early next year.

The Rodney AI²PA is named in honour of Rodney Brooks, an Australian robotics pioneer and co-founder of iRobot, the company behind the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner.

Working under the guidance of AIML’s machine learning researchers and Barossa Valley Brewing’s experts, the two students set about building a large dataset from more than 260,000 existing craft beer recipes available online, before creating a neural network learned how to make beer by studying the data. Mr Fusco said:

“We generated 200,000 new recipes, and then we trained a neural network to pick the best ones and rank them"

Most beer contains only four main ingredients: malt, hops, water and yeast. Slight variations in those ingredients—and precise changes to the times and temperatures at certain steps of the brewing process—result in the diverse variety of beer available today.

But if creating AI that can make its own beer isn’t complex enough, creating AI that can actually make good beer is significantly more challenging.

“That was actually very difficult. We had to come up with our own mathematical formula using statistics from those original recipes,” Christopher said.
“By getting statistics on these variables, we were able to judge the significance of each variable, this also helped us deal with any possible biases that could have occurred in the data,” Jash added.

Data such as how many times particular beer recipes had been viewed online, and how many people said they’d made it, all give an indication as to a beer’s popularity. The students then created a neural network that learned to judge the AI’s own recipes and give each a popularity rating.

The AI-enabled analysis whittled down 30 potential AI beer candidates. AIML left the final decision on which to brew to the experts at Barossa Valley Brewing.

The brewery’s founder, Denham D’Silva, was excited about the opportunity for AI to augment his company’s creative process, but initially had doubts:

“The willingness to experiment and create interesting and premium beers has been a foundation of the brewery for 16 years. So, to largely place this process in the hands of AI, was in a word, terrifying.
“Beer is traditionally a very hands-on process, and even more so for a small craft brewery like Barossa Valley. When you’re a smaller craft brewery you can’t compete on scale, so you have to be different and clever.”

While Australian per-capita consumption of beer, generally, has declined in recent decades, craft beer sales are growing at a rate of 10 per cent every year.

To complement the high-tech beer experience, AIML engineers have also built a robotic ‘bartender’ that can automatically detect when an empty glass is placed on the bar, and quickly refill it with cold beer straight from the keg.

Denham D’Silva is enthusiastic the beer will be a hit:

“It tastes like the future! Seriously, it’s a fruit driven IPA which I am very proud of and can’t wait to release.”

The Rodney AI²PA by Barossa Valley Brewing will be available for limited retail sale from mid-January 2022.

*subject to change due to the vagaries of interdimensional time travel


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