Eye on AI - October 21st, 2022
Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!
Our focus returns to farming this week as we delve into the AI arms race that may expand or end factory farming before shifting gears to address the various ways in which AI is helping farmers feed the world.
AI Could End Factory Farming
Factory farming, a system of rearing livestock indoors using intensive methods and strictly controlled conditions, has been increasing efficiencies in recent years thanks to the help of AI. Yet according to the article “AI could fuel factory farming—or end it,” these so-called ‘efficiencies’ are also contributing to animal suffering and environmental impact.
“Some of this AI may increase animal suffering,” writes FastCompany contributor Brian Kateman; “for example, if AI can more closely monitor the health of animals, this could also enable producers to crowd even more animals into confined spaces, increasing their output while causing additional stress to the animals. But even more problematic is that it might lower the costs of animal products.”
Lower prices mean more demand, which in turn means more animal slaughters. Factory farming opponents hope to use AI to combat animal suffering and, potentially, replace factory farming altogether. AI4Animals, for example, uses an algorithm in conjunction with slaughterhouse monitoring cameras to detect video segments that contain animal welfare violations. On top of that, the viable availability of meat alternatives have been steadily rising. Cell-cultured meat—meat is grown from cells rather than slaughtered animals—is already being produced at scale by such companies as Because Animals and Animal Alternative, while others, such as NotCo, use AI to compare the molecular structure of meat or dairy products to plant sources. These competing systems are still in their infancy. Yet what they represent is essentially a split into two factions within the factory farming industry: one that hopes to use AI to the detriment of animals, the other to their benefit.
“In a way, it’s a technological arms race between big ag and the many companies looking to replace or remake it for the sake of animal and environmental well-being,” continues Kateman. “Programmers and investors looking to get into the food-tech industry need to first ask themselves which side they want to be on.”
Kateman notes that the question of whether to support the slaughterhouses is mainly an ethical one, and is the same question we’re being asked to face in a number of industries as AI becomes more prevalent: should we use AI to help the world and life in general, or should we use it to the detriment of the many for the monetary benefit of a few? It may seem like an easy choice, but we humans don’t always make the wise choice so easily.
How AI Can Help Farmers Feed the World
Speaking of ethics, did you know that roughly 10% of the global population falls asleep hungry each night? According to the article “How AI Can Help Farmers Feed The World,” those numbers will likely worsen amid more food shortages, famines, or potential wars unless better growing efficiencies are put into practice.
“Artificial Intelligence… offers a chance to help the global food supply chain and the farmers trying to make a living,” writes Forbes contributor Daniel Russek. “... AI ultimately allows computers to ‘learn’ and make better decisions—a capability that holds enormous promise for farming and the food supply.”
Of the possible applications of AI in farming, Russek highlights four that he sees as having the most potential: drones for camera monitoring + disease and pest detection; robots for harvesting at scale; mobile AI-powered architecture for new growing capabilities; and big data and predictive analytics, which finds patterns in the massive amounts of data collected by farms to predict everything from crop production and soil health to the best delivery methods and marketplaces to improve supply/demand efficiencies.
Adoption and funding will be critical if these methods are to be successful. AI adoption has been difficult in farming, where hand-me-down practices are sometimes centuries-old. One way to potentially overcome this hurdle, notes Russek, is to offer leasing programs for AI technology and government stipends to help ease the monetary burden. That would give smaller farmers the opportunity to test AI at a relatively low cost to see that it actually makes them more productive before implementing it at scale. It could also show that using only a little AI can go a long way.
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