Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pretty Soon, They'll Be Burping for Us

Yesterday, the Wash Post explained in this article how high-tech machines are tasting and grading foods with very high levels of accuracy. According to the article:

. . . a Japanese consortium recently released a Health and Food Advice Robot that can distinguish among 30 kinds of wine, as well as various cheeses and breads, and has the irritating capacity to warn its owner against poor eating habits.

. . . Recent improvements in sensors, and in computer programs able to interpret their highly complex inputs, give credence to the once-discounted idea that machines may someday become the ultimate arbiters of taste.
The article reports that just last month the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a program using robotic graders to assess the quality of beef at four Nebraska slaughterhouses. These are the official grades that the USDA gives to distinguish "prime" cuts of beef from beef that is merely graded "select."

The Post article explains how the robotic graders have been able to grade beef with high levels of accuracy:

. . . (the robotic graders) capture photographic images of sides of beef as they cruise by at rates of up to 400 head per hour. The graders focus on the rib-eye muscle, between the 12th and 13th ribs, and measure the redness of the meat, the degree to which it is marbled with tasty fat, and the thickness of the outer fatty layer.

Human graders are being kept on hand to confirm the machines' ratings and override the robots when necessary. But the degree of agreement is very high, officials said. And one handy thing about a hard-wired judge is that it is not susceptible to pressure from plant owners, some of whom have been known to lean on agency graders.