“Scent entered into their very core, went directly to their hearts, and decided for good and all between affection and contempt, disgust and lust, love and hate. He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.”
― Patrick Süskind, Perfume
Base note fragrances at the lowest level, heart notes in the middle, and top notes at the highest level. Sitting at his perfume organ, or octophone, the nose plays around with hundreds of essences. He meticulously selects patchouli, clove, and vetiver notes, applies droplets of scents onto paper strips, and sniffs one and another in his continual quest for the “ultimate.” Who knows — a revolution may be under the nose’s nose.
Their names may not be widely recognized, but their signature fragrances have lasted the test of time and become iconic. Chanel’s N°5 was created by French-Russian chemist and perfumer Ernest Beaux in 1921. Hermès’ Calèche by Guy Robert in 1961. Dior’s Hypnotic Poison by Annick Menardo in 1998.
Noses are formed through a long apprenticeship and bring in their olfactory experiences and sensitivity. Each fragrance has a distinctive composition that evokes a sentiment in the perfumer and provokes a sensorial impression to the customer. But time is luxury. The fragrance market demands new creations every season, and their life cycle has shortened dramatically in recent years. Could artificial intelligence be the next frontier of perfumery innovation? Would perfumers accept to work with an AI apprentice by their side?
German fragrance house Symrise partnered with IBM Research to develop an AI called Philyra, named after the Greek goddess of perfume, that can spark inspiration and generate new combinations of fragrance formulations. Philyra uses machine-learning algorithms to sift through hundreds of thousands of formulas and thousands of raw materials. Philyra learns from regional and demographic preferences, sales performances, industry trends, and existing combinations. Algorithms then predict raw material complements and substitutes, raw material dosage, human responses, and novelty level of the composition.
This collaboration resulted in three fragrances for Brazilian cosmetics company O Boticário: one designed entirely by AI, a second where Symrise perfumer David Apel adjusted the AI-generated formulas, and a third where AI provided recommendations. Testers reportedly opted for the 100% AI-generated perfume.
IBM’s Watson defeated all-time “Jeopardy!” champions. Will his female counterpart ever supplant humanity? Philyra is a network of artificial neurons developed to store, process, and analyze data. It has neither consciousness nor soul. It can smell no scent, feel no sentiment.
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