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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ennis

Eye on AI - September 25th, 2020

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


This week, we’ll be looking at an article that addresses the growing problems of food waste and loss, then finish with early details on a recent collaboration between the Vatican, Microsoft, and IBM that aims to encourage widespread use of ethical AI in the fight against world hunger.


How AI Addresses Food Loss & Waste Differently

We begin with an article by The Spoon’s Jennifer Marston, titled “What’s the Difference Between Food Waste and Food Loss?”, which looks at how AI is tackling the issues of food waste and loss at different points in the distribution process.

“Both food waste and food loss have economic, environmental, and human consequences,” writes Marston. “And while there is some overlap between the two, food waste and food loss have to be curbed with different solutions — hence the importance of understanding the difference between the two.”

Each year, one-third of the world’s food supply – 1.3 billion tons – gets tossed out before consumption. That’s an enormous disparity. To fix it, notes Marston, it’s essential we understand the differences between food loss and food waste.

“.... food loss refers to food that spoils early on in the supply chain, before it ever lands in on grocery store shelves,” notes Marston. “.... Reasons for this food loss can include poor crop harvest, animal deaths, spillage, transportation issues, and insufficient storage.…. Food waste, on the other hand, refers to food that is ready and edible for consumption but gets discarded before that happens [which occurs] at consumer-facing stages like restaurants, grocery stores, and in consumers’ homes….”

Precision farming, smarter transportation, and more efficient storage methods help address the issues of food loss, all of which we’ve covered extensively in previous Eye on AI posts. Food waste, on the other hand, is mainly an issue of supply and demand: restaurants, grocery stores or households overstock or poorly manage their food supply, and the food rots before it is ever consumed. Larger chain stores have already implemented AI solutions that track food products and reduce waste, while products like LG and Samsung's Smart Fridges help households reduce waste by tracking inventory and identify when food is nearing expiration. In Nigeria, a company called ColdHubs uses solar energy to power “walk-in” cold rooms local food producers can use for storage. And Etihad Airways recently announced it now uses AI to help reduce food waste and costs during flights. The AI solutions are there. It’s the implementation that’s lagging, especially when it comes to addressing more existential issues like world hunger.

Vatican’s Life Academy Promotes Ethical AI to Fight World Hunger

Speaking of world hunger, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life announced this month that it will be launching a new joint project in collaboration with Microsoft and IBM that looks at ethical ways artificial intelligence can be used to guarantee food security, the details of which are to be announced during an online conference being held today.

“Titled, ‘AI, Food for All: Dialogue and Experiences,’ the conference was a follow-up to a Feb. 28 event held at the Vatican that included the signing of a ‘Call for AI Ethics’ by the leaders of the papal academy, Microsoft, IBM, the FAO and a representative of the Italian government,” writes Boston Pilot contributor Carol Glatz. “.... The goals of the event include presenting concrete solutions to the agri-food business with the ethical use of AI and looking at the "post COVID-19 route" to take’.... Those scheduled to take part in the event include: Brad Smith, president of Microsoft; John Kelly III, executive vice president of IBM; Qu Dongyu, director-general of the FAO; and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.”

While the results of the conference have yet to be posted, I’m curious what, if any, concrete plans will emerge. Regardless, any collaboration between such influential leaders is sure to have a positive impact for the future of ethical AI.

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