“Typically, a farmer will either make a decision based on intuition—which is not data—or he will feel the ground,” he said. He said that, rather than rely on intuition, it would be better to use computers to analyze images of every inch of the farm. Those computers could recommend decisions based on data they have collected from farms all across the world—a grower in Mexico might benefit from data collected on a farm in Israel.

Koppel said that computers can fill in farmers’ blind spots, likening farmers to doctors, who are prone to making mistakes. “I really don’t like to go to the doctor,” he said. “I would prefer having a machine that is unbiased. You know, a doctor maybe saw a few thousand people, and the machine has seen hundreds of millions of people. And the doctor doesn’t remember everything he studied in university, and the machine knows everything all the time.”

In the future, we could see robots that can tell when a strawberry is ripe and pluck it gingerly from the plant, or droids that can find weeds and spray them, or machines that can determine when and how much to feed dairy cows. However, while AI holds incredible promise for farms, it also threatens to be massively disruptive, especially at a time when many farmers are returning to more traditional growing methods.

“Some farmers might not wish to make the transition, either lacking the skills to flourish in a more techno-centric system or the motivation,” said David Rose, an environmental geographer at the University of East Anglia who has written about the future of farming. “Some farmers might not consider the use of AI to be compatible with their lifestyle, preferring instead to use their experiential knowledge and be closely connected to their land.”

He said that autonomous robots could threaten the safety of workers and animals, and could also put a lot of people out of a job. Heavy reliance AI could also sever farmers’ connection to the land. That’s the future depicted in this John Deere commercial, which Rose described as “chilling.”

“I am not saying that we should not embrace AI in agri-tech. It definitely has the potential to improve decision-making, help us cut through data, improve efficient spraying, automate manual or laborious jobs, attract younger, more technical workers to the industry, and increase profitability. But almost no one is talking about the societal and ethical implications of AI on-farm,” he said.

“What does the world look like in which AI is used routinely on-farm? How is that different to now?” he asked. “And how do we look after the potential losers of the tech revolution as well as the winners? I think if we just start thinking about those questions and accepting that, in a democracy, technology trajectories should be open to challenge, then this is a good thing.”

This post originally appeared on Nexus Media.

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