Amii helps brewery harness AI to make and market beer

The Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) and Blindman Brewing have combined their skills to launch a new beer, just in time for AI Week. The May Long Double IPA, which the Lacombe-based craft brewery releases yearly, features a beer label design that's generated with the help of artificial intelligence.

The technique is called neural style transfer, which leverages the power of deep neural networks to synthesize a new image by mixing the content of one image with the style of another.

"You can mimic the style of a particular artist ... and then superimpose that or combine it with imagery that you want to generate in that style," explained David Chan, Amii's project lead for industry. "We used that technique and applied it to landmarks in and around Edmonton."

This isn't the first time Amii and Blindman Brewing have applied AI to craft beer. Blindman has also been working on reducing its carbon footprint through Amii's Reducing Emissions through Machine Intelligence (REMI) program. The program, which is funded through the end of 2022 by a provincial government grant, helps businesses use AI technology to make decisions about how to reduce greenhouse gases while also improving operations and increasing revenue. Kirk Zembal, co-founder of Blindman Brewing, said participating in the program over the past year has helped bolster the company's ongoing CO2 capture and reuse project.

"When you ferment things to make alcohol, you're producing ethanol, and you're also producing CO2. Typically, that CO2 just goes to the atmosphere, but often you're also using CO2 to carbonate things like beer," Zembal told Bloom, Taproot's innovation podcast.

"You can create a little circular loop in your own process where you capture the CO2 you use, you clean it up a bit, and then you reuse it in your own process. It reduces costs and emissions, and maybe even increases quality."

Zembal and his team are relying on AI and machine learning to ensure the process is efficient and that the quality of CO2 being produced is top-notch.

"Fermentation is a biological process — it requires living things. And as we all know, living things can be a bit fickle. We're hoping that AI and ML can help us understand what our yeast is doing and how it's feeling on any given day," Zembal said.

Blindman Brewing has been working on its CO2 capture technology for five years, and Zembal said the brewery will be the first to use this innovation in Canada. It is in the midst of a regulatory review with the provincial government to certify use of the technology, and the hope is to make it available to breweries across the country.

An image of Edmonton's skyline, superimposed with green, blue, purple, and other colours

Blindman Brewing's latest beer label features a design that uses neural style transfer, which leverages deep neural networks to synthesize a new image by mixing the content of one image with the style of another. (Supplied)

Blindman Brewing and Amii see potential to use AI in other areas of the brewery's business as well, such as utilities usage to optimize when the boiler is firing, as well as sales projections, stock management, and warehouse logistics.

"AI and ML have such huge potential, and it really cuts across industries. Oftentimes, when you think about AI and ML, the first thing that will come to mind is those large organizations like Google ... but it doesn't stop there," Chan said.

Chan and various other teams at Amii work on making AI adoption accessible for businesses, whether they fall within the tech industry or not. That can look like assessing processes and challenges to determine how AI and ML could be leveraged to help solve problems.

Amii will celebrate 20 years of expertise in artificial intelligence research during AI Week, which runs May 24 to 27 in Edmonton.

Martha White, fellow and Canada CIFAR AI Chair at Amii, will kick off the week with a keynote about reinforcement learning. There will also be opportunities for students, developers, and professors to share their current research, and a talk with Amii's Alona Fyshe and Stephanie Husby about career paths in AI.

Blindman Brewing's May Long Double IPA, featuring the Amii-designed label, will also be available throughout the week.

Listen to the full conversation with Chan and Zembal on Episode 15 of Bloom.