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New Study Shows Ag Sector Has Yet to Fully Grapple With AI Ethics

By Kimbra Cutlip

Artificial intelligence (AI) has made inroads into almost every industry and socioeconomic sector in recent decades, carrying with it a promise of making life easier and more efficient while raising new concerns about privacy, implicit bias and a host of potentially harmful, unintended consequences.

Researchers have increasingly focused on potential implications of AI across a variety of sectors, and now a new analysis from the University of Maryland has tracked the rising trend in such studies, revealing that some sectors, like agriculture, have barely scratched the surface.

According to Debasmita Patra, an assistant research professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology and lead author of the study recently published in the journal AI and Ethics, agricultural businesses are relative latecomers to AI.

“When a technology is new, we don’t know all the potential impacts of that technology,” Patra said. “And we need to be asking these questions about the ethics involved in AI applications in agriculture now, while it is still new and rapidly emerging, before we get very far down the road.”

Patra and her colleagues conducted a global analysis of all the research papers focused on ethical, legal, social and economic implications of AI from 1991 through 2020. Their study found that the greatest number of research papers on these issues were focused on the fields of computer sciences and social sciences.

The agricultural sector is rapidly developing more uses for AI, and each new application poses many unanswered questions. For example, AI systems can use satellite imagery of farm fields and farmer-collected data on leaf moisture to predict disease or pest infestation and recommend management practices, but once collected, who owns the data?

Other concerns include how sustainability will be factored into AI applications designed to increase yield and the potential for AI-guided automation to lead businesses to modify their livestock or crops to better suit a robotic tender or harvesting machine.

Read the full news release.

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