If there was one job you’d think would be safe from automation, it would be taste-testing. And yet, a report out today from The Star online says that in China, a government program has been using AI-powered robots to look at, smell and taste food to ensure its quality and authenticity.

China’s National Light Industry Council has been running a test for the past three years with different food manufacturers to test products such as black rice vinegar, fine dried noodles and Chinese yellow wine. From The Star:

The machines, which can learn on the job, are planted at various points along production lines to monitor the state of the food from raw ingredients to end product. They are equipped with electrical and optical sensors to simulate human eyes, noses and tongues, with a “brain” running a neural network algorithm, which looks for patterns in data.

These robots gather all the sensory information about the food, inspecting it for accuracy and consistency. According to the story, programmers and food experts have gotten the AI to take in all the multisensory data to make assessments that are roughly 90 percent as good as a human.

Though the AI can achieve results that are more consistent than a bank of human testers, The Star writes that the program is not without controversy. The China Cuisine Association objects to the robots, noting that the sophistication of Chinese food requires more nuance and understanding than the AI is capable of, especially when it comes to labeling something as “authentic.”

This isn’t the only instance of the Chinese government using AI to standardize practices in the food world. In January of this year, the Shaoxing Province of China started using cameras and AI in restaurants to automatically (and continuously) monitor sanitary conditions.

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