May 15, 2024

Teaching Machines to Smell with Theta Diagnostics CTO Kordel France

Out of all five human senses, our ability to smell is considered to be the most strongly linked to memory, learning, and emotion, and is arguably the most elusive. Existing AI development has largely been focused on more concrete senses like sight and hearing. But until we’ve incorporated all five senses into an artificial being, it’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to achieve human-level intelligence. That is why today’s guest, Kordel France, has chosen to take on the complex and challenging task of developing machines’ ability to smell.

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Kordel is the CTO and Founder of Theta Diagnostics, and today he joins us to discuss the work he is doing to develop a sense of smell in AI. We discuss the current and future use cases they’ve been working on, the advancements they’ve made, and how to answer the question “What is smell?” in the context of AI. Kordel also provides a breakdown of their software program Alchemy, their approach to collecting and interpreting data on scents, and how he plans to help machines recognize the context for different smells. To learn all about the fascinating work that Kordel is doing in AI and the science of smell, be sure to tune in!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Introducing today’s guest, Kordel France.
  • How growing up on a farm encouraged his interest in AI.
  • An overview of Kordel’s education and the subjects he focused on.
  • His work today and how he is teaching machines to smell.
  • Existing use cases for smell detection, like the breathalyzer test and smoke detectors.
  • The fascinating ways that the ability to pick up certain smells differs between people.
  • Unpacking the elusive question “What is smell?”
  • How to apply this question to AI development.
  • Conceptualizing smell as a pattern that machines can recognize.
  • Examples of current and future use cases that Kordel is working on.
  • How he trains his devices to recognize smells and compounds.
  • A breakdown of their autonomous gas system (AGS).
  • How their software program, Alchemy, helps them make sense of their data.
  • Kordel’s aspiration to add modalities to his sensors that will create context for smells.


“I became interested in machine smell because I didn't see a lot of work being done on that.” — @kordelkfrance [0:08:25]

“There's a lot of people that argue we can't actually achieve human-level intelligence until we've met we've incorporated all five senses into an artificial being.” — @kordelkfrance [0:08:36]

“To me, a smell is a collection of compounds that represent something that we can recognize. A pattern that we can recognize.” — @kordelkfrance [0:17:28]

“Right now we have about three dozen to four dozen compounds that we can with confidence detect.” — @kordelkfrance [0:19:04]

“[Our autonomous gas system] is really this interesting system that's hooked up to a bunch of machine learning, that helps calibrate and detect and determine what a smell looks like for a specific use case and breaking that down into its constituent compounds.” — @kordelkfrance [0:23:20]

“The success of our device is not just the sensing technology, but also the ability of Alchemy [our software program] to go in and make sense of all of these noise patterns and just make sense of the signals themselves.” — @kordelkfrance [0:25:41]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Kordel France

Kordel France on LinkedIn

Kordel France on X

Theta Diagnostics

Alchemy by Theta Diagnostics

How AI Happens



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