With Artificial Intelligence (AI) driving agricultural revolution as it helps to surmount various challenges of feeding the growing global population, researchers have sounded a note of warning in the adoption of the AI technology.
The team of researchers led by Dr. Asaf Tzachor from University of Cambridge CSER, the first author of the paper has in a new study warned of the large scale risks associated with the deployment of AI to Agricultural production.
The research dubbed a ‘new risk analysis’, published in ‘Nature Machine Intelligence’ journal and funded by Templeton World Charity Foundation Inc., warned that AI use in agriculture is fraught with a significant high level of risks for farms, farmers and food security.
The first author of the paper, Dr. Tzachor while summarising the inherent dangers wrote:
“The idea of intelligent machines running farms is not science fiction. Large companies are already pioneering the next generation of autonomous ag-bots and decision support systems that will replace humans in the field”.
“But so far no-one seems to have asked the question ‘are there any risks associated with a rapid deployment of agricultural AI?’” he added.
With the prospects AI has in improving crop management and agricultural productivity, it behoves that potential risks must be adequately addressed, with new technologies properly tested in experimental settings to make they are safe, and secure against accidental failures, unintended consequences, and cyber-attacks, the authors say.
Also, the authors in the research were able to outline a catalogue of risks that must be considered in the responsible development of AI for agriculture, while fashioning out ways to address them.
They also cautioned on the possibility of hackers and cyber-attackers potentially causing disruption to commercial farms with the use of the AI technology, this they said can be done by poisoning datasets or by shutting down sprayers, autonomous drones, and robotic harvesters.
The researchers suggested the infusion of ‘white hat hackers’ to help companies uncover any security failings during the development phase, so that systems can be safeguarded against real hackers.
In cases of accidental failure, the researchers noted that a Artificial Intelligence system that is programmed just to deliver a good crop yield for the main time will not take into cognizance the environmental consequences of achieving it and this will lead to the overuse of fertilisers and will cause soil erosion in the long term.
It was also noted that the over-application of pesticides to bring high crop yield has the ability to poison ecosystems, with the authors suggesting by the involvement of applied ecologists in the technology design process to avoid such negative scenarios.
The researchers opined that though self-driving machines could relieve farmers of the stress of manual labour, but averred that without an inclusive technology design, socioeconomic inequalities currently entrenched in global agriculture will continue to exist.
“Expert AI farming systems that don’t consider the complexities of labour inputs will ignore, and potentially sustain, the exploitation of disadvantaged communities,” warned Tzachor.
“AI is being hailed as the way to revolutionize agriculture. As we deploy this technology on a large scale, we should closely consider potential risks, and aim to mitigate those early on in the technology design,” said Dr. Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, Executive Director of CSER and co-author of the new research.
Reference: “Responsible artificial intelligence in agriculture requires systemic understanding of risks and externalities” by Asaf Tzachor, Medha Devare, Brian King, Shahar Avin and Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, 23 February 2022, Nature Machine Intelligence.