Nathan Myhrvold is the definition of modern Renaissance man.

Equal parts mad scientist, gastronomy pioneer and patent troll, the former Microsoft CTO and driving force behind the seminal Modernist Cuisine books is an indisputable polymath that is nothing if not prolific when it comes to exploring new ideas around how to make food.

So, when I happened upon a patent recently issued to Myhrvold called “Quantified-self machines, circuits and interfaces reflexively related to food,” I knew I’d stumbled upon something worth investigating.

Like many patents issued to Elwha LLC (an entity tied closely to Myhrvold’s intellectual property firm Intellectual Ventures, an organization which some people, not completely incorrectly, refer as a patent troll), this one is dense and hard to decipher.  But, the more I looked at it, the more I realized it’s an expansive, potentially important patent (as much as you believe patents are important) that describes a system that collects data about a human’s biomarkers, preferences and behavior and connects to a food manufacturing system to create food based on this data.

In short, Myhrvold has a patent for a personalized food manufacturing system.

If you’re still confused, I don’t blame you. The patent itself is 266 pages long and mostly consists of extremely confusing language about electronic interface systems and semiconductors. Thankfully, the patent had some graphics that helped me decipher what exactly this system is all about.

Such as this one:

The diagram above describes a system that gathers data from a person, including biomarker data as well as health and activity levels, and then can communicate the data to a “food fabricator” or “food ingredient supplier.” The data can also be used to create end-user applications that include subscription services from “kiosk food fabricator networks” or “manufacturers of food fabricators.” Some of the companies that the patent cites as examples of makers of food fabricators include 3D Systems (a 3D printing company that has worked on a food 3D printer), Natural Machines (a 3D food printer company) and other home appliance brands such as Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and Samsung.

If you, like me, are a little confused about what exactly a “kiosk food fabricator network” is, perhaps this diagram from the patent can help:

From what I can tell, the above graphic shows a futuristic kiosk network of vending machines that can manufacture food based on preferences determined by the analysis of the data provided by Myhrvold’s personalized food system.

If that idea isn’t crazy enough, what makes that idea even more intriguing is Myhrvold’s company was issued another patent the same day which describes a vending machine for personalized food creation. The patent, called “Ingestion intelligence acquisition system and method for ingestible material preparation system and method”, includes a graphic of what looks to be a vending machine for personalized food manufacturing:

While this concept of a personalized food vending machine is fascinating, just as fascinating is the names included on this patent such as Chris Young (founder of ChefSteps and coauthor of Modernist Cuisine) and Neal Stephenson, the prolific cyberpunk writer and futurist for Magic Leap.

So, is Myhrvold and his network of inventor friends looking to create a future where food is manufactured for us based on personal data gathered from our own bodies, past behavior, and environmental data?

Maybe.

As I mentioned earlier, the founder of Modernist Cuisine also has a pretty significant business around creating and buying patents for all sorts of interesting new ideas, many of which may never see the light of day. But, given Myhrvold’s pedigree as both a gastronomy pioneer and prolific collector of crazy patents for just about everything, it’s worth at least paying attention to and wondering what exactly type of future the guy behind Modernist Cuisine envisions for our personalized food future.

2 COMMENTS

  1. More likely, if less optimistically, he’s trying to create and squat on a patent that simply states, in a formulaic and abstract manner, the current trend to individualized foods. I don’t see anything inventive in these documents, of how it would work. Clearly he’s leaving that up to some creative inventor and their startup, which he will then spring a lawsuit on (of course only after it’s been acquired by a corporation with deep pockets). One can only hope that the future law suit will find that he is not adding / has never added any value and therefore his patent shall be void.

    • I don’t disagree entirely: he may just be looking to create a patent that he can license as part of his Intellectual Ventures business. I wouldn’t rule out him doing something more, however, as this was codeveloped with some of his Modernist Cuisine folks.

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