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Sushi meets AI: Japanese inventor’s app scopes out choice tuna cuts

Image credit: Chic2view/Dreamstime

If you’ve ever bought supermarket sushi, you may know the taste trauma that hit Kazuhiro Shimura one night.

Shimura's “disappointing” tuna experience sparked an idea: to develop an artificial intelligence (AI) system to make sure everyone's sashimi was always delicious.

Shimura, a director at advertising firm Dentsu Group’s Future Creative Center, came up with the concept for 'Tuna Scope' AI as he chewed his raw dish while watching a television show about fish merchants who spend a decade mastering the skill of selecting high-quality tuna for sushi restaurants.

Using a deep-learning algorithm to crunch through grading data from merchants, Tuna Scope has now evolved into a smartphone app. Clients can download and use it anywhere, creating “a unified grading standard” for an industry that relies on local know-how, said Shimura, who is working with Japanese trading company Sojitz Corp to promote his technology.

“That means people can be sure they are getting delicious tuna,” Shimura told Reuters, speaking at fish merchant Misaki Megumi Suisan, which ships AI-certified tuna overseas.

The highest-quality fish - each of which can weigh around 300kg - have sold for more than $3m (£2.4m) in past tuna auctions. According to the Organisation for the Promotion of Responsible Tuna Fisheries, around 2 million tons of tuna is consumed around the world annually, of which Japan accounts for a quarter.

Kazuhiro Shimura, a director at Dentsu Group's Future Creative Center, demonstrates the 'Tuna Scope', an AI-based system that judges the quality of natural tuna using cross-sectional images of their tails, at Misaki Megumi Suisan Co. in Miura, south of Tokyo, Japan June 29, 2020. Picture taken June 29, 2020

Kazuhiro Shimura, a director at Dentsu Group's Future Creative Center, demonstrates the 'Tuna Scope', an AI-based system that judges the quality of natural tuna using cross-sectional images of their tails, at Misaki Megumi Suisan Co. in Miura, south of Tokyo, Japan June 29, 2020.

Image credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, fish merchants from the Maldives, Spain, the US, Taiwan and elsewhere have contacted Shimura about Tuna Scope because travel restrictions mean they can’t visit suppliers to check tuna quality, he said.

At Misaki Megumi near Tokyo, Shingo Ishii - one of the merchant’s buyers - held a smartphone with Tuna Scope over a tray of tuna tail sections on a metal tray as other workers used industrial saws to cut up frozen tuna shipped from around the world. The AI delivered a result within a few seconds.

“I think this will become a common tool over the next 10 to 20 years,” said Ishii, holding the smartphone over one of the tail sections.

Ishii admitted to mixed feelings about a technology that could make his job easier but which also threatens to make a skill passed down through generations obsolete. “To be frank, I think I can still beat the AI,” he said.

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