How AI Is Helping Preserve Historic Smells?

Jan 7, 2022
4 min read

Ever had the experience where a particular scent reminded you of a place or flashed back a memory? Various scents and smells possess the power to take us to the past in seconds and relive the emotions associated with them. Owing to the connection of smells to emotional satisfaction, scientists are exploring the usage of Artificial Intelligence in recognizing the smells prevalent to a certain culture or organization in history. This will ensure that the historic smells are preserved and maintained for future generations, giving them the surreal experience of the past.
While artificial intelligence techniques frequently brought back the structures of broken cities or revoked broken paintings in the past decade, its usage in tickling human olfactory nerves were limited. However, researchers and history scholars ensure that this crucial technology is being leveraged to its fullest potential by bringing AI into preserving historic smells.

What are Historic Smells?

Historic smells comprise the aromas, scents, and odours prevalent to a certain culture, social group, or civilization during its era. For example, the industrial revolution in the west made the air shift towards more of a smoke-filled incense that lurked in the air for years. The aroma of rosemary during the disappearance of the plague is linked widely to its usage in the treatment of the disease.

Historic smells have garnered the attention of researchers in the past decade because the scents speak a lot about a culture’s mindset and economy. A great way to explain the connection is found in tobacco usage. The nineteenth-century witnessed the origin of this popular commodity wherein its smell was considered to be “exotic” and luxurious among the masses. However, with its blatant usage over the years, its odour became too common, seemingly unnoticeable. By the beginning of the 21st century, the smell of tobacco started to make people in public spaces visibly uncomfortable and even nauseous. This goes on to show that scents and aromas hold a deeper meaning in history and can be used to track evolution and change the political and social environment of societies.

How Can AI Preserve Historic Smells?

The algorithms used in AI programs are crafted to behave like a human. Humans have a complex olfactory system helping us identify the smells and distinguish different ones, and know when to register a new one on the encounter. AI bots and programs are wired to act like a “human nose” formed from a complex web of neural networks, hardwired to detect smells, put them in its database and recognize those smells with 100% accuracy in the future.

Here is a quick process to help you understand how an AI robot or software can detect the various smells it is subjected to with perfection.
The first step towards developing the olfactory sense in artificial intelligence bots is to train them to detect and identify odours, smells, fragrances, and all kinds of scents. This requires the algorithm to act like a “computerized nose” that can catch smells by taking a whiff of old texts, objects and paintings, mimicking a mammalian’s olfactory organs.

Feeding data
The next step involves feeding the AI machines and bots the crucial information regarding the characteristics of smells so it can accurately distinguish between the various odours in an instant. This will allow the machines to produce descriptions of odours and their history precisely.

The team of researchers, scientists and scholars plan on working profusely to identify all kinds of smells and investigate the vast array of odours present throughout the historical references. The chemists, odour specialists, and top perfumer engineers will then evaluate this data for building and recreating different smells in compilations of an online encyclopedia. This online resource, composed of recreated scents, is then intended to be made available to all museums and heritage centres worldwide for assistance and reference.

A prominent group of experts called Odeuropa is attempting to put the science behind artificial intelligence into recreation and preservation of the smells of the past. The efforts aim to store the different scents and study their significance throughout history and make the information available to all the scholars, museum lovers, and anyone fascinated by history fragments. But this is not the first or the only group to have looked deeper into the smell of histories. We are now witnessing a number of countries giving odours their due importance, like Japan who created its list of top smelling sites in the country. Olfactory exhibitions also help people take a whiff of the old scents.

What It Means For History Lovers

Many countries have attempted to bring the sensory elements of their heritage and ancient culture into the picture for history enthusiasts. History is always perceived by sight and how we “see” things. The other senses like smell, touch and taste are often neglected or paid little heed to while recreating a culture in museums or science centres. With the advent and advancements of AI-powered programs, historians can get a “view” and experience the odours and actually “smell” history. The ambience created by the integration of visual-olfactory senses is sure to induce more realism and authenticity in any piece of art.

Moreover, having an authentic knowledge of the historic smells, the changing societal status of smells and fragrances can be studied and analyzed; all of which can aid scholars and researchers in reaching a better understanding of the reformations in social and political conditions within the heritage.
The wonders of Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are too many and prominent to ignore and pull out the ignored elements of the past. This technology will give the future generation a true sniff of the past.