From identifying plant pests to picking fruit, AI is reinventing how farmers produce your food

Sick crops? These Indian subsistence farmers know just what to do: Pull out their smartphones and take their picture. The farmers then upload the images with GPS locations to a cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) app named Plantix. The app identifies the crop type in the image and spits out a diagnosis of a disease, pest or nutrient deficiency. Plantix also aids farmers by recommending targeted biological or chemical treatments for ailing plants, reducing the volume of agrochemicals in groundwater and waterways that can result from overuse or incorrect application of herbicides and pesticides. “Nearly every household in India has a smartphone, and many want to see how Plantix works,” says Srikanth Rupavatharam, a digital agriculture scientist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, which is collaborating with Plantix’s developer to adapt the tool for Telugu and Hindi languages. For common crop diseases in India, Rupavatharam says, the app has an identification success rate of more than 90 percent. Plantix is based on deep learning, one of today’s most powerful AI tools. Deep learning involves neural networks — digital imitations of the human brain’s system of neurons and synapses. Deep learning models are trained to look for certain patterns in giant datasets. They also go beyond basic pattern recognition to devise their own rules as they go, deciding how best to perform their jobs. Deep learning isn’t a new idea; it’s been around for decades. But over the past five years, deep neural networks have advanced very rapidly because of super-fast processing hardware and huge volumes of data from the internet to train models. Deep learning already reaches into our daily lives: Facebook, for instance, uses deep learning to identify and tag the faces of our friends in posted photos. Now ag-tech companies are testing deep learning as a tool to boost productivity and reduce environmental impacts while helping farmers carry out tasks that people now perform. As in every other industry, AI advances could lead to greater efficiencies but also job losses. Opportunity and Challenge The world must produce at least 60 percent … Continue reading From identifying plant pests to picking fruit, AI is reinventing how farmers produce your food