The Philadelphia Inquirer: Computers Can Be Trained to Smell Like a Human, Say Scientists at Philly’s Monell Center

Scientists discovered long ago how to represent sounds and colors with raw numbers, paving the way for smartphones, flat-screen TVs, and other devices of the electronic world.

But odor and fragrance have remained quaintly stuck in a pre-digital era, characterized only with the subjective tool of human language.

That might be about to change, according to a new study coauthored by scientists at Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center.

Using a machine-learning model developed at Google Research, the authors mapped out how the smells of 5,000 known chemical substances were related to their underlying structure. They then used this mathematical tool to predict the smells of 323 new, lab-made chemicals that no one had smelled before, finding that it performed just as well as a panel of trained human sniffers.

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