Food and technology have always been intrinsically linked. As humanity expanded its ability to manipulate the world around it, food was always a logical place to apply new tools. From human ancestors learning that cooking food via fire could increase its nutritional benefits to NASA exploring how to grow food in space, as a species, we’ve always found ways to improve our foods by using the technology available to us.
Now, it would appear, Google is making a run at joining in on the fun, albeit in a unique way.
The company recently launched calorie count integration for fast food search results, showing full nutritional information directly from its search results pages. The results will show up in web searches, but the company is focusing its efforts on its “OK, Google” voice command program and its mobile platform.
The move makes sense, both financially and practically. Although fast food companies are required to list nutritional information online and in-store, they are often presented via the web as clunky PDFs that are difficult to search online. For in-store versions, most likely, you will find that very PDF printed out, hanging somewhere in the store (nowhere near where you are ordering). Forget about if you are the drive-thru. I think consumers will be glad to have a tool that they can use practically anywhere to find out more about what they are eating. Financially, Google benefits as it keeps visitors within their own ecosystem, hopefully leading to more ad revenue.
The roll-out follows another Google initiative, codenamed Im2Calories. The program uses “sophisticated deep learning algorithms” (a subset of artificial intelligence) to determine the caloric values of food from a picture taken on a smartphone. Although the program is still in development, Google researcher Kevin P. Murphy sees a huge market potential for the product, noting that “we semi-automate. If it only works 30 percent of the time, it’s enough that people will start using it, we’ll collect data, and it’ll get better over time.”
It’s unclear how or if the two programs will operate together, but considering Google’s history of synergy between its products, it’s hard to believe they won’t have a connection at some point. And given Google’s history as a technology innovator, expect to see other tech giants follow in their footsteps into the nexus where the food industry and technology meet.