F*ck AI With a Cactus (Thoughts On the Intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Wine)

The post F*ck AI With a Cactus (Thoughts On the Intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Wine) appeared first on 1 Wine Dude.

Image: Dennis Eriksson
Image: Dennis Eriksson

In an as-yet unpublished OpEd style piece for Napa Valley Wine Academy tentatively titled “Is AI Coming For Your Wine Job?”, I discuss some possible futures in the wine world based on the impacts of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

But now, just after I penned that article, AI can successfully identify Bordelais terroir 100% of the time ( insert Arnold voice-over here: “All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record“). Which seems right in line with how we are generally creating our own future AI hellscape, in which the robots and software are writing poetry and creating visual art while we humans work for near slave wages in enormous warehouses. Wait, that’s actually the present. Never mind.

Anyway, as I mention in the NVWA piece:

“While a Terminator-style dystopian future is probably not on the immediate horizon (not until Skynet becomes self-aware, anyway), it’s clear that the wine industry will not be immune from the impacts of AI tools. Sure, AI can’t taste wine (yet!) [editor’s note: that one aged like milk in no time!], but it’s rapid data analysis capabilities are already being used to change how farmers might work in the vineyard, and to help level the playing field between small and large producers.There are even wine apps that claim to use AI to pick your next bottle of wine, replacing sommeliers with algorithms without so much as popping a cork.”

So, are we f*cked in the wine biz yet thanks to AI?

I still stand by my “probably not” answer.

To wit: Just ask AI some things about wine. The responses are—unsurprisingly, given how AI works—just as vapid and shallow as the majority of wine writing to be found online these days.

I asked one AI engine “What can the wine industry do to attract new consumers?” and here’s what it told me:

“The wine industry can take various approaches to attract new consumers. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. One approach is for wineries to focus on creating unique and compelling experiences for visitors. They can offer beautiful tasting rooms, immersive tours, and educational experiences about winemaking and grape growing. Such experiences may attract wine enthusiasts who are interested in learning more about the science and art of wine production.
  2. Another approach is for wineries to explore alternative packaging formats, such as cans or boxes, to appeal to consumers who are looking for convenient, portable options.
  3. Wineries can also leverage social media and other digital platforms to connect with younger consumers who are active on these channels. By sharing engaging and informative content about their products, wineries can build brand awareness and connect with potential new customers.

Overall, wineries that are innovative, creative, and adaptable are likely to succeed in attracting new consumers.”

That response falls squarely in the “throw a bunch of sh*t against the wall and hope some of it sticks” camp.

Could some of those work? Maybe. But dive a bit deeper and it starts to fall apart. I mean, we’ve been saying the 3rd one above for so many years that it’s actually not even considered as something that would draw in new consumers anymore; it’s just the normal price of doing business.

So… how about something a bit more specific, like “Who is the wine writer Joe Roberts?” (commentary added):

“Joe Roberts is a wine writer, educator, and speaker [true]. He is the founder of the website 1WineDude.com and has contributed to several publications [also true], including Forbes and Wine Enthusiast [uhmm… nope]. Roberts is known for his engaging, accessible writing style and his ability to make wine appreciation approachable for everyone. [debatable]”

And even more specific, “What wine books has Joe Roberts written?

“As of now, Joe Roberts hasn’t published any wine book [big-time WRONG]. Roberts is primarily known for his wine blog 1WineDude.com and his contributions to various publications. However, he has mentioned that he is working on a book about the business of wine, which is yet to be published. [that’s news to me].”

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying that AI, in its current incarnation, is only as good at writing as the content that it can legally steal sample and “rewrite.” For most high-level purposes, this is not only fine, it’s actually a godsend. It gets you a rough draft on, say, tasting notes, regional overviews, and press-release style highlights near instantaneously, for near zero dollars.

Your future sommelier
Your future sommelier?

But we are a loooooooong way off from AI truly subbing for the sommelier, table-side in the midst of a bustling dining room, effectively hand-selling a wine’s story to a customer.

My friend and fellow Philly wine guy Jason Wilson offers an excellent take on this who AI vs. Wine scenario in a recent piece he wrote for Wine Enthusiast’s website (emphasis mine):

“But from another perspective, an A.I. wine critic might be a blessing in disguise. Wine has gotten so bogged down in our human attempts at being rational, logical and quasi-scientific. The current model of wine professionals, which is based on blind tasting skills, or the critic who tastes vast amounts of wine in one sitting and offers numerical scores both stem from the impulse of making our understanding of wine more “objective.” But wine isn’t any more objective than other human creations. Maybe A.I. can free up the sommelier or critic to focus more on the emotional, romantic side of wine.

I love this take. I can tell you that blind tasting largely sucks and is something that I always felt reduced my skillset to something borderline robotic. I mean, I am better at it than the average person probably, and will happily accept dollar bills to do it, but just because I am half-decent at it does not mean that I enjoy it. AI being able to “blind taste” a wine to help identify its source and pedigree has obvious applications in combating wine fraud, for example, and frees up us tasters and critic types to wax poetic about what great wine means to us in human terms.

That sounds like an amazing outcome, frankly.

And as for AI coming for jobs… Yeah, the writing thing is taking a hit, but excellent content is excellent content, and AI just isn’t producing that yet. After all, AI still cannot convincingly tell stories like this about wine, and if it even gets close it’s because it’s ripping off knowledgeable humans like me who did it (hopefully creatively!) first. AI is still a souped-up copying machine for the time being, not a storyteller.

As anyone who attended the Wine Future Conference in 2023 can attest, storytelling is essentially human, and is essential to how we are going to sell, share, and enjoy fine wine as humans.

So, f*ck AI sideways with a cactus if it doesn’t want to fit into the paradigm of how we humans want to tell and share stories about wine. That’s a future that most of us probably don’t want to be a part of, anyway.

Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My books are available from Rockridge Press!

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