November 22, 2018
Lessons from the farm: How AI is used to solve age-old issues and change human behaviour
By: Jodie Wallis

The The AI Effect is a podcast series exploring Canada’s burgeoning artificial intelligence ecosystem. Accenture’s AI leader co-hosts with reporter Amber Mac to look at AI’s explosive growth and the change—challenges and rewards—it can bring for individuals, business and society.

In Episode 3, we talk about interesting examples of how AI is having a positive impact on food production and the environment.

Canadians spend more than $100 billion at grocery stores every year—and artificial intelligence is changing what we produce and consume, from farm to table. And it’s happening fastest down at the farm.

We met Bharath Sudarsan in New Brunswick, for example. He’s director of Deep Learning at SomaDetect, which is using AI to build the future of dairy.

SomaDetect uses lasers and cameras to analyze milk samples and provide the data to farmers, from every cow and every milking. Many farmers welcome this AI intervention with open arms; farmers must keep detailed records to guarantee food safety and until now, this meant hauling samples to labs and hours of paperwork.

The “cow data” can tell the farmers as much or as little as they need to know—everything from the composition of the milk to how the cows are feeling day-to-day. On the consumer side, this deep data can add assurances about the quality of the milk, tracing its origins from the store right back to the cows from which it came.

Meanwhile, at Montreal’s Lufa Farms, the company’s co-founder and greenhouse and marketing director, Lauren Rathmell, is using AI to feed multitudes of Montrealers. The company uses data to manage pests instead of synthetic pesticides and deliver more than 14,000 grocery boxes a week in Quebec—feeding nearly two percent of the population in the areas it serves.

Farmers are likely to become data nerds—knowing as much about algorithmic outputs as soil, Rathmell says. More and more, farmers of the future will rely on data to power their craft.

AI is even making inroads into protecting the land and water that enable us to have farms in the first place. At Intuitive, CEO Hassan Murad and his team are developing a product called Oscar, just like the Grouch who lives in a trash can. Oscar attaches to garbage bins, “sees” people’s trash, helps them sort it correctly and rewards them for their efforts. Since 98 percent of what the world generates ends up as garbage, it’s a step toward changing human behaviour.

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