Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2020

Algorithmic palates: accounting for taste in the age of big data

Opinion paper

By Alexios Tsigkas, University of Zurich, Switzerland


From media streaming services, to social media and online shopping (groceries included), consumer experience is increasingly subject to algorithmic customization. Artificial intelligence tools are deployed to sift through troves of online data in order to predict future market behavior and allow companies across the board to provide evermore personalized content to individual users. Consumer choice is subject to algorithmic processes that seek to quantify and therefore provide an ostensibly “objective” platform for the judgment of taste. The datafication of taste preferences carries a promise of not only objectivity, but also accuracy of prediction, to the point of complete individuation: to each their own indeed, readily available at the touch of one’s screen.

The food industry is ready to follow suit: fueled by venture capital, emerging startups seek to deliver AI-generated market research to food companies seeking to launch new products. Using digital applications whereby users input taste preferences, they promise to render traditional tasting-panels and sensory science research obsolete, by anticipating how new food products may perform in a given market based on data produced by individual consumers.

In this paper I ask how might artificial intelligence reconfigure the role of tastemakers as it assumes the role of critic and expert alike? Furthermore, how might the sharing of taste transform in the face of algorithmic analysis and infinite, individualized customization? Furthermore, how might artificial intelligence and machine learning account for the historicity and situatedness of foodways or the intersubjective, multi-sensory nature of taste experiences? Might big data, in its quest to quantify experience, finally challenge the age-old adage and manage to truly, literally account for taste in pure mathematical fashion?