The Balvenie explores impact of AI on handcrafting

The Balvenie explores impact of AI on handcrafting

In partnership with a futurist and a ceramicist, the distillery's malt master discussed how artificial intelligence could affect the creation of handcrafted products such as whisky


Pictured: Futurist Anne Lise Kjaer, Balvenie malt master Kelsey McKechnie, and ceramicist Ryan Barrett

News 21 Dec 2023

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The Balvenie has explored the possible impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) on the future of handcrafted products such as whisky.


As part of its Makers Project, the Speyside distillery initiated a discussion into the role that AI could play in the future of whisky and other handcrafted products.


Undertaken by Balvenie malt master Kelsey McKechnie in partnership with ceramicist Ryan Barrett and futurist Anne Lise Kjaer, the project coincided with the first anniversary of ubiquitous AI program ChatGPT in November.


Their discussions are underpinned by a national survey to gather public opinions. Of those who responded, almost 70 per cent agreed that items made by hand are more valuable than those that are mass produced and 73 per cent agreed that the time a person spent crafting something made it inherently more valuable, but more than half were concerned about the impact that artificially intelligent technologies could have on creativity and crafts.


Anne Lise Kjaer said, “The continued development of AI is inevitable; there will always be visionaries striving to advance the capabilities of technology. However, as it stands, AI can’t simulate the human curiosity and intuition that so often drives craftspeople, creatives and artists. When humans are the creators we also experience ‘happy accidents’ that lead to moments of innovation, another process that a well programmed machine cannot replicate.”


Despite revealing some worries about AI, 32 per cent of respondents to the survey were supportive of the development of AI tools with 41 per cent believing that AI could help a craftsperson. Ceramicist Barrett explores this conjunction of handcrafting and technology in his work, inventing bespoke tools such as larger kilns, an engineered coiling system, and virtual reality software. 


Barrett said, “AI learns from humans and so it should be used to push us as artists, to explore what we might not have thought of. I relish technology as a new source of inspiration, allowing me to access intricate designs and techniques that I couldn’t do on my own. However, whilst I use AI and digital techniques, it’s my trained eye and hands that have the final say over the finished product.”


McKechnie said, “The Balvenie distillery was founded on a belief in the value of craft and the intrinsic specialness that comes from things made by hand. In the 130-plus years since The Balvenie started, the world has seen numerous new innovations and technological advances. However, the desire for handcrafted luxury has always remained. 


“Despite the rise in automation and use of AI we have seen across other industries, revered products are the ones that have had a human touch and that have been handcrafted with care poured into them.”

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