Turing Tests and the problem of artificial olfaction

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Via MIT Technology Review.

Here’s an interesting problem. When it comes to human senses, we’ve found ways to reproduce the look and sound of the real world reasonably accurately. There are even technologies for reproducing the feel of certain experiences, such as flight and car simulators.

But the problem of reproducing smell is much more intractable. The 1960 SmelloVision experiment is a case in point. This involved some 30 odors that were released into the cinema at certain times during a movie. Only one film—Scent of Mystery—ever used the system, which rapidly failed.

The truth is that nobody has found a way to accurately reproduce odors from the real world. And consequently, artificial olfaction is a technology that sits stubbornly beyond our reach.

The problem is essentially to measure an odor at one point in space and then reproduce it at another. And it is a task of surprising complexity and subtlety.

But even if it were possible, how would we test such a system? How would we know that the artificial odor was an accurate reproduction of the original?

Read more.


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