Imagine a field of wheat that extends to the horizon, being grown for flour that will be made into bread to feed cities’ worth of people. Imagine that all authority for tilling, planting, fertilizing, monitoring and harvesting this field has been delegated to artificial intelligence: algorithms that control drip-irrigation systems, self-driving tractors and combine harvesters, clever enough to respond to the weather and the exact needs of the crop. Then imagine a hacker messes things up. A new risk analysis, published today in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence, warns that the future use of artificial intelligence in agriculture comes with substantial potential risks for farms, farmers and food security that are poorly understood and under-appreciated. “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,” said Dr. Asaf Tzachor in the University of Cambridge’s Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), first author of the paper. “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.
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