IBM built a handheld counterfeit goods detector

The AI tricorder knows those aren't official Yeezys.

Just a month after IBM announced it's leveraging the blockchain to guarantee the provenance of diamonds, the company has revealed new AI-based technology that aims to tackle the issue of counterfeiting -- a problem that costs $1.2 trillion globally. IBM Crypto Anchor Verifier brings together AI and optical imaging to help prove the identity and authenticity of frequently forged goods such as fine wine, diamonds and medicine, as well as analyze water quality and detect bacteria, such as E.coli. And the technology is small enough to use with a cell phone camera.

It works by identifying the optical patterns that are unique to every single object or substance, and draws on AI models that use machine learning trained to recognize these optical signature. These patterns can distinguish an organic ear of corn from a genetically modified one, or a $1,000 bottle of red wine from a much cheaper variety, for example.

And the technology naturally complements blockchain applications. IBM's Crypto Anchor Verifier solution can be used to capture the optical signature from an original, uncompromised item and subsequently record it on the blockchain, which can verify throughout the supply chain that the item hasn't been tampered with. It could, for example, track a crate of wine from the moment it leaves the winery and throughout the distribution process right up until the moment it's bought by a collector, confirming it's the same wine that left the vineyard.

Of course, while the technology brings a useful benefit to the valuable goods market, its wider applications could have a significant impact on humanitarian efforts. Being able to authenticate critical medicine, identify bacteria and examine water samples in the field using handheld portable kit could be lifesaving.