The StrainBrain AI budtender has arrived in Ottawa

Published Oct 16, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / monsitj

When you walk into a cannabis dispensary today, you’re likely to find a modernized set up that might include technology like tablets to search through strain databases. Or in the very least, a highly knowledgeable budtender who can help you find exactly what you need. Pot shops are pulling out all the stops to get brand new customers through the doors, but we’re betting that you’ve never seen anything quite like this before.

The AI robot

This budtender isn’t your average joe, it’s fully equipped to offer a highly personalized and accurate experience based on each customer's individual needs. Thanks to StrainBrain software, the new AI robot can be consistently updated, learning by scanning through hundreds of thousands of online recommendations based on product type, potency, effects, and aroma. The technology allows consumers to select up to two preferences for each category, and in exchange, they’re recommended three weed strains, based on the input.

Where to find one

This AI robot sounds like a dream come true, and you’re probably wondering where you can find one nearby, but for now, only residents and travelers in the Ottawa area have that luxury. Stash & Co has only one cannabis dispensary up and running in Ottawa, and through that location alone, more than a thousand consumers each day get the products they need. Though there is another retail store that’s been announced, and it’s set to open in Nepean, this virtual budtender is available at only one location.

The pros of an AI robot budtender

There are so many benefits to this great technology, many of which we have yet to discover, but one thing is clear, it’s that these machines are capable of offering clear, precise, and accurate recommendations based on preference. More accurately than any human budtender. Through a network of millions of data points, the AI robot is always learning, evolving, and adjusting the advice that it gives accordingly, something that could take up an entire lifetime for a human.

Aside from the technological perks, consumers will have the pleasure of removing the human element, something that is believed to cause many cannabis enthusiasts grief, as they fear being judged for seeking advice or answering relevant questions honestly. Of course, there will still be plenty of people and live budtenders about, as it isn’t yet clear how standardized this idea may become, and we need people to fix the robots, but it could offer many users a more comfortable, less stressful exchange, especially in the time of COVID-19.

The cons

The big downside of using AI that learns through user input is that it still isn’t a very scientific way of doing things, even if it looks high tech. In fact, it’s nothing more than a conglomeration of various user's opinions and experiences, much of which is highly influenced by widely believed misconceptions, and for many, it is hard to swallow. Especially when it’s at the expense of a living budtender who can offer sympathy, passion, and real-life insight. Sure, Slack and Co’s robot could be useful under the right circumstance, but there is nothing that can replace a fellow consumer.

In the end, it’s all a matter of how you personally view things, because just like self-checkouts in the grocery stores, these tools will be lifesavers for thousands of people. There is enough room to include both humans and AI robots in the cannabis industry, so there is no reason to feel forced to choose one way or another. If you can, make sure to try them both, because you’ll never know what you might have missing until you do.

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