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Ice cream chef Giapo on the possibility of an AI robot taking his job: “It will happen, 100%”

If you found yourself out and about on upper Queen St on any given night prior to 2017, it was a common sight to see lines of punters spilling out the doors of Giapo’s ice cream parlour and snaking around the corner. This kind of illogical behaviour would take place even in the coldest of winter months.

Many have had a go at explaining the rationale, but it’s perhaps best left at this: Such is the gravitational pull of a unique experience (like ice cream flavours you can’t see before ordering) and a delicious treat.

But come this year, owners Giapo Grazioli and Annarosa Petrucci decided enough was enough. They uprooted themselves for the first time in nine years to move from Queen St to a new, much more spacious downtown location on Gore St in March.

The decision was a tactical one, as unlike the cramped Queen St store, the Gore St shop lets the creative operations expand over three levels: The bottom floor, front-of-house area is where customers order, while the second floor is the kitchen where ice creams are constructed.

Meanwhile, the third floor acts as the ‘innovation hub’ for R&D of new recipes and ideas and is home to its 3D printer. It’s in this new space that a 3D printed, colossal squid chocolate ice cream was created in collaboration with Te Papa Museum.

Grazioli with the colossal squid ice cream, and the new Giapo innovation/R&D kitchen

“Ice cream is coming out of its normal dress for the first time, it’s no longer a geodimetric ball on a cone, stuff is sticking out,” Grazioli explains of the eye-catching, tentacle-laden creation.

“It’s a landmark. We’ve always been eating with our eyes and our five senses, otherwise I’d just give you an orange instead of doing something else. It’s post-post modern.”

But despite being ahead of the curve as far as ice cream stores go (how many are creating chocolate squids out of 3D printers?) Grazioli isn’t resting on his laurels. Instead, he has a keen interest in which futuristic technology could be the next addition to his kitchen.

He says he wants to collaborate with a tech company or harness high-tech technology to go where no ice cream maker has gone before.

“We want to do something with holograms, and we’re interested in virtual reality, artificial intelligence applied in the kitchen, things like that,” he explains.

“With augmented reality, it could be eating an ice cream but being somewhere else, like a trip. Or, we can create a hologram of somebody.”

Grazioli’s team has already dabbled in this unchartered area of ice cream consumption in prior years. A sound dome they built matched different genres of music to different ice cream flavours to see how the sound altered the perception of flavour to the person eating it, but now he’s eager to try something new.

“We want to try the next thing – augmented reality hasn’t really been done yet. AI hasn’t really found an everyday application in the kitchen or with customer service. Can you imagine Siri answering you or taking your order?” he says.

But perhaps more interestingly, Grazioli holds very strong views on what jobs will be impacted by AI. He says it’s coming for every business, and even those whose job relies on creativity aren’t safe.

In other words, Grazioli, who Idealog dubbed the ‘imagination machine’ in a previous feature, reckons he himself could be replaced by an actual machine.

“The problem is not creativity, the problem is execution with context. Look at how IBM Watson has made a cheesecake,” he says. “50 years from now, every single business will be impacted by AI. 100 percent. Even ours. Can you imagine the computational power of a computer with mind? It’s much bigger and faster, and it will be much better than what I can do with my brain.

“We are machines. We are made of molecules, but what is not replaceable is the soul, the spirit. What the machine can’t replace is the purpose, but everything else from creativity to drive and grit, they’ll smash us. One of the new school subjects for our kids will be working with AI. They can make clones of us, does that tell you anything? Give it 50 years.”

The IBM Watson created cheesecake

Grazioli says he’s intrigued by where technology is taking us as a human race. His other predictions for the future of tech include that within 50 to 70 years, humans will no longer die as they will have figured out how to block aging, and that in the future, wars will be forged with no human contact.

“I think the challenge will not be who has the biggest nuclear bombs, but who will make the most incredible algorithm. The next wars won’t be fought people to people, they’ll be fought computer to computer, robot to robot.”

But he’s also optimistic – he thinks no matter what outcomes arise, good will prevail.

“I think AI will set us up for a better civilisation, because it will probably be a fairer one. AI will take the vast majority of all the jobs, but we will be good enough to find ourselves other jobs and work side-by-side with AI.”

Despite these eery predictions, he says he’d also welcome the idea of an AI robot working alongside staff in the Giapo kitchen any day from now.

“It will happen, but would you want to buy an ice cream from a robot and not from a human? That’s where the purpose comes in. There must be someone behind that AI – maybe it means the humanity I’m showing to create those things. Everything is possible, it’s just about writing the right algorithm to show the humanity, the intelligence, the passion – it’s the person behind that write the codes that drives the purpose.”

3D printed ice creams

Outside of the discussion of the still slightly surreal world of an AI workforce, he says in terms of technology, he would also like more sophisticated tools to see what’s inside the ingredients.

“At the moment we’re mono-dimensional because we only taste, we can’t see, we guess why things go well together, there must be a chemical balance or harmony between the two. I would love a diagnostic that can go check inside and check what this is made out of and what are the proteins inside – we will be eating better and tastier thanks to science.”

It may be somewhat surprising that an ice cream chef is so heavily invested in future technology, but he says being at the forefront of these trends plays into his vision for Giapo, which is transforming the way people experience ice cream.

“It’s certainly unconventional, it shocks people, puts people off, but it makes us do a better job, so they get a difference experience and we’re working better. It’s for us to step up once again and show the world what New Zealand ingenuity can do, as far as ice cream is concerned.”

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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