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Microsoft is building a ‘smart fridge’ for not-so-smart grocery shoppers, like me

I’m not great at grocery shopping.

I almost always forget something and at least once a week my boyfriend has to scramble out to the store to pick up an essential item minutes before dinner is ready.

So, naturally, I’m very interested in a “smart refrigerator” Microsoft and appliance company Liebherr are building.

Interested and a little scared. Let me explain.

The fridge of the future has a series of internal cameras that monitor and recognize the food items inside. The proud owner of one these devices can take inventory of the contents from anywhere using an app. The app also lets them create shopping lists based on the contents of the fridge.

The refrigerator relies on an image processing system that can identify items based on its library of millions of generic food packaging images. Microsoft’s Cognitive Services Computer Vision API powers the image-recognition technology, according to a blog post published Friday.

“The Microsoft system can learn to recognize new types of objects – milk cartons, ketchup bottles, pickle jars and much more – from example images,” it says. “When a new image from inside a refrigerator is provided to the newly learned model, it can detect the presence of the objects it has seen before during training.”

To a busy, forgetful person like me, there’s a real appeal to a fridge that does the remembering for me.

You could see the device going one step further and automatically restocking items when they’re low. That kind of technology is likely to make Amazon prick up its ears. The Seattle e-commerce company’s Dash program works similarly.

But what happens to humanity when we start relying on machines for basic tasks like acquiring and tracking our food?

Maybe I’m a conspiracy nut, in addition to forgetful, but I think it’s worth considering before handing the keys to the food supply over to your Kenmore.

Fortunately, we have a little time to decide how we feel about the technology. The device Microsoft and Liebherr are working on is still in the prototype phase…for now.

“Although the current system is a prototype, the deep learning technology it uses is already very powerful and rapidly maturing,” the announcement says. “Liebherr and Microsoft are actively improving these technologies to turn the newest generation of refrigerators into smart appliances that don’t just cool your food but interactively help you with your food management.”
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