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PHILADELPHIA, PA - You’re looking for a new date night destination, or you’re out of town and have no idea where you can find the best gnocchi, or your cousin with celiac disease is staying with you and you have to quickly investigate which restaurant has the best gluten free options… where do you turn?
As we’ve shifted to a digital economy, word of mouth has gone out the door and online reviews have entered through the screen. There are over a dozen sites dedicated to providing them, including Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato, Google Reviews, and many more.
Traditional reviews are sought because they build trust, provide a subjective opinion from real people (for the most part), and are supposed to be void of marketing and advertisements.
But are they?
Although online reviews have faced their share of criticism, they remain a staple in the search for food destinations. It is widely acknowledged that, as with all things, online restaurant reviews have the ability to be corrupted. Some companies pay for reviews they didn’t earn, or go out of their way to bury poor reviews.
Yet, at their heart they are still a quality source. Readers can usually detect foul play with a watchful eye, but that is changing.
Cheaply made, purchased reviews used to be easy to identify because the bots who cranked them out were basic. With advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) this is no longer the case.
One of these advancements is recurrent neural networks. This method integrates deep learning by modeling the system after the neurons and networks in the human brain. A study was done to specifically see whether or not this type of AI could pass for realistic restaurant reviews. The bad news is that it did - overwhelmingly.
In fact, AI does such a great job writing reviews that the University of Chicago Magazine stated, “artificial intelligence can be used to generate fake Yelp reviews so convincing that users found them to be indistinguishable from, and just as useful as, human-written reviews.”
Fortunately, at this point the AI reviews aren’t perfect and technology exists that can identify which ones are generated by non-humans to help protect the integrity of the system. Expensive, complicated technology, but tech nonetheless.
AI is disrupting more than just online reviews in the food industry. Innovations in intuitive technology have provided the opportunity for many changes.
Want to know if your pet is enjoying his dish of dry Kibble? There’s a company out there who uses a wearable device that tracks biometrics to determine how Fido feels about his food.
Ever wanted your own Sous Chef? Meet CHOPCHOP, an AI platform that helps with recipe, food prep, online grocery shopping, and even tells consumers when to remove their food from the heat when cooking.
Struggle to make the right food choices? Don’t worry, there are a bunch of new apps that use the learning capabilities of AI to get to know you and provide individualized nutrition advice.
With all of these smart options, the way we experience food is changing. In many ways, it is changing for the better.
Is having AI in the food industry in our best interests?
It is too soon to tell. The world is quick to change along with the changes that affect it. It can’t be said that ‘yes’ they will, or ‘no’ they won’t. But it can be said that, if online review systems become useless, then some creative innovator will come up with a better system for getting you to the food that you love.
Jeff Belizaire is growth marketing professional who has worked in brand marketing, strategy consulting, e-commerce and mobile solutions for over 15 years. In his current role as Head of Growth for Appable, he partners with clients ranging from small startups to large enterprises to build disruptive digital products.