Advanced AI Is Scary—but It Could Help Save the Planet

Anyone who grew up in a rural part of the country can tell you that the sun rarely catches farmers’ sleep. After all, the farmer’s job never ends—and that may never change.

However, if you To be As a farmer, your life might be a little different one day: you wake up around 5 a.m. or even earlier. After changing clothes, you grab a cup of coffee and breakfast to recharge for the new day. In doing so, you go through a checklist of priorities and to-dos for the day: feeding and watering the animals, cleaning their cages and enclosures, and tending to the plants. But first, you need to go to the warehouse.

There, after passing the tractor and harvesting equipment, you come to a platform with big drone on it below a hole in the ceiling. You exchange yesterday’s battery with some new one from the charging terminal. Then, finally, you open an app on your phone and speak into it. “Check the condition of the soybean soil before watering the corn field.” Just then, you hear the familiar whir of the propeller. You step back and watch as the drone takes off from the skylight and into the glorious morning horizon. For a moment, you watch as it rises into the sky, before exiting the barn and returning to the farm. There’s no time to waste. After all, the cows will not feed themselves.

It reads like something out of a speculative sci-fi story but it will most likely become a reality soon. While there are already a lot hype about AI in the past few months after its release OpenAI’s ChatGPTmuch of the discussion has focused on things like the scary headlines about sentient bots, what AI means for the future of education and essay writingHow will it disrupt industries? writing and codingor how private companies and entrepreneurs can take advantage this trend as they tried with metaverse and cryptocurrencies.

However, some have begun to consider how exactly these next-generation AIs can be leveraged beyond the obvious — and even combat climate change while feeding the world. That’s the idea behind a new preprint written by a team of data and machine learning researchers from multiple universities on how emerging cutting-edge AI like GPT-4 can be leveraged for agriculture, while helping to combat climate change.

“Climate change poses a serious threat to agricultural practices,” Jin Sun, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Georgia, Athens and co-author of the paper, told The Daily. Beast in an email. “[Meanwhile]Agriculture also has a significant impact on climate. [AI] can help in both directions.”

Environmental case for AGI

Specifically, the paper argues for the use of general artificial intelligence (AGI), a term often used to describe the point at which AI is capable of learning and understanding the human brain. The concept itself was steeped in fear destroyer-style robot uprising and even “Divine” intelligence. Billionaire and former OpenAI board member Elon Musk has even made many comments in the past alluding to own fear of AGI and its potential to uplift society. He’s recently told Tucker Carlson that advanced AI could lead to “civilization destruction”.

However, the idea of ​​AGI remains largely in the realm of speculation—something that will come someday, but not here yet. However, Sun says that AGI is coming, due to “the success of the GPT family models”.

These models are general-purpose, large-scale, and—in the case of GPT-4—multimodal, meaning that it accepts image and text inputs to generate text output. “This is significantly different from traditional AI models, which are more task-specific and unable to adapt to new environments,” explains Sun.

Several researchers have begun to explore applications for these models in health care field to do everything from helping with diagnostic decisions, to using ChatGPT to assist the surgeon on the operating table. (It should be noted, of course, that no hospital in the world reports doing such things, as they can be closed and lose their license faster than you can say “Do no harm”.)

The paper’s authors argue that the same can be done for the stewardship of the Earth through agriculture and climate initiatives. Specifically, they make the case that AGI can reduce emissions through various core processes. For example, AGI could help power and power a new generation of agricultural robots to perform tasks such as weeding, fertilizing, harvesting and monitoring crops.

The study’s authors write: “AGI’s ability to understand natural language and inference can significantly improve human-robot interaction, thereby lowering technical barriers for farmers. when using agricultural robots. That means, one day, the story of the farmer giving orders to their drone via a saying is very likely.

Robots never get the job done

In many ways, the AI ​​revolution has come to agriculture—although we may not realize it. Practically every farmer in the country today uses sensor chests, AI software, and even hardware like drones to aid them in their work.

“AI is already a thing in agriculture,” Daniel Kaiser, director of agricultural innovation for the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Daily Beast. “It’s data, sensors, and how AI can be used to interpret data to help farmers better understand management decisions.”

That is the real power of AI when it comes to the environment: data. The more information someone has about a particular stretch of land or ecosystem, the better they can take care of it. All of this is within the scope of a process known as precision agriculture. For example, if a farmer knows the exact soil composition on their area, they can know what optimal crops will grow there.

However, Kaiser says the industry is facing a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation, where farmers have all this AI-powered data and analysis — but the hardware just can’t keep up. them to do anything about it. “That’s what a lot of new startups are trying to do: they’re trying to incorporate software into machines that can actually act,” explains Kaiser.

So the future could mean things like drones to water, fertilize and spray herbicides on crops, or even automated harvesters that know how to pick lemons the most ideal size in a forest, says Kaiser.

However, aside from great hardware enhancement and support, perhaps the most impactful app for something like AGI to help solve problems like world hunger and farming in times of crisis. Climate crisis is genetic engineering in plants and animals. Kaiser explains that AI has been used to help identify functional groups of genes “much faster”.

“Previously, it took months to encode the wheat genome and identify the functional groups. Now they can do it in a matter of weeks,” says Kaiser. He added that scientists have been able to do things like create nitrogen-fixing crops that eliminate the need to fertilize them and create salt-tolerant rice.

Sun and his co-authors argue that AGI could exponentially increase the potential of this process, allowing scientists to create “supercharged” plants that can survive weather patterns. erratic, resistant to pests and diseases and increase crop yield. “All of which are important for maintaining productivity in challenging climates,” he said.

farmer in the loop

However, as with all things AI-related—especially when it comes to models like GPT—problems caused by bias cannot be taken lightly. These are models trained on large data sets that are often prone to bias. This means it can lead to disproportionate levels of damage when developed and deployed without guardrails.

We saw this with the first launch of ChatGPT And Bing’s AI-powered chatbot. The developers behind it seem to be in a hurry to launch a product without considering the full implications of getting a powerful chatbot into the hands of the masses.

The results were dire: People began to believe that the AI ​​was doing things like threatening to kill them, fall in love with them, or even become sentient. There are even cases where bots spread outright misinformation—and at one point even baseless accusations of a professor of sexual assault.

Extrapolate these effects to the world of agriculture and land management, and these effects can be felt by people all over the Earth. Gengchen Mai, an AI researcher at UGA and a co-author of the paper, told The Daily Beast: “We cannot ignore the possibility of its bias. “ChatGPT has been known to generate inaccurate and malicious content—which is very, very bad for some important decisions.”

He gives the example that if we used ChatGPT for medical treatmentit can cause patients to misdiagnose or ignore symptoms due to erroneous data—something happened before with people of color. “And if you go into farming, like farmers, it can give them the wrong data and lead to the wrong decision—meaning disaster.”

This underscores a refrain that AI researchers and ethicists have been clamoring for for decades: There always needs to be a human—in this case, a farmer—in the loop. In fact, everyone with whom The Daily Beast spoke for this story agreed that no matter how sophisticated or “intelligent” an AI is, someone needs to be there to make sure things go smoothly. .

“You’ll always need someone to watch what’s going on,” says Kaiser. “You will always miss something with the sensor and also a lot of changes happen all the time like growing conditions and climate. It’s uncertain and people will be the ones who can adapt to those changes.”

So that way, we can take comfort in the fact that there will always be a need for human stewards of the Earth, and rejoice that the old adage will always hold true: The farmer’s job is never done. complete—even with a robot. Apocalypse.

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