The Third Leader: Robo drop

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The Independent Online

Hmm. Gargling noise. Long pause while we digest the news that the Japanese have developed a robot which can identify wines. Are we amused by the presumption, or outraged by a development which should be expelled into the bucket of bad ideas with considerable force?

My learned oenological colleagues toiling above have no doubt. Disdain mingles with lectures on le gout de terroir, the taste of the earth prized by the French but dismissed by New World vignerons with a soulless insensitivity which has made such robotic barbarisms inevitable. "Will this thing of sensors and tin expel a happy sigh when it detects that essential smell of a Burgundy farmyard?" they ask, rhetorically, I think.

I'm not quite so certain, being a canned lager man. But I imagine a robot would be pressed to match R L Stevenson's verdict, "bottled poetry", or like James Joyce, compare the pale gold of a Fendant de Sion to the waste output of an Archduchess.

Nor was my confidence inspired by the discovery that the robot has no nose. How does it smell? (No, please, after you.) The world would surely be a poorer place without the questing, quivering nostril, the confident pronouncement of esoteric expertise, and the happy sniggers of the rest of us, shameless in ignorance.

But do not despair: how many of these robot stories have you read? And are you still answering the door yourself? There was, too, that sobering incident in 1980 when an experimental wine-waiting robot in a Leith restaurant went berserk, pouring wine on the carpet until its head flew off and landed in a diner's lap. Sante!

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