From Democratized Machine Learning to Digital Whisky Sommeliers

From Democratized Machine Learning to Digital Whisky Sommeliers

Microsoft Cognitive Services (formerly Project Oxford) opens access to very sophisticated machine learning algorithms. Until quite recently, these were accessible only to boffins in the gilded halls of academia, and people who consider terms like TF-IDF and hidden Markov models appropriate in polite conversation at the dinner table.

Microsoft Cognitive Services consists of a collection of APIs clustered around Speech, Text, Search, Vision and Knowledge. Behind the scenes are advanced machine learning models trained on web-scale data, and these models are available to anyone with basic knowledge about REST APIs and how to call them. This opens the esoteric world of AI and machine learning to the masses.

At BIGDATAPUMP, we decided to test the capabilities of Microsoft's APIs on something dear to our hearts, namely, single malt Scotch whisky. More specifically, we wanted to study the applicability of Microsoft Cognitive Services in designing an app that would do the following: 

  • Take natural language input as speech
  • Infer what the speaker intended and identify the entities that the speaker referred to
  • Perform a task that satisfies the speaker's intent

In more concrete terms, if I wanted to enjoy a sweet-tasting, spicy, Speyside whisky (and I often do!), I would like to be able to ask my phone to recommend something. By stringing together the Bing Speech API and LUIS, it is possible to convert speech to text, and text to intents and entities. We then search reviews on /r/Scotch to identify the whiskies that match what I asked for. This resulted in Scotty, a digital whisky sommelier in the form of an iOS application which can search through a corpus of whisky reviews and come up with a set of recommendations that best match the kind of whisky you asked for.

The ease of use of the API meant that a reasonably competent programmer could put together a functioning back-end in under a day. Combining this with the efforts from BIGDATAPUMP's iOS developers and UI designers we quickly had a stylish mobile app branded for our cause. We must now begin the arduous task of fine-tuning our code by tasting the whiskies recommended by Scotty!