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Country Corner

Artificial intelligence must be used wisely

Last month, our MFA Communications team learned a valuable lesson about the use of AI. Since this is a farm publication, I should clarify that I don’t mean artificial insemination. I mean artificial intelligence, the technology that enables computers and machines to simulate human thought and problem-solving capabilities.

When preparing information about Missouri Agricultural Hall of Fame inductees, an online AI program was used to translate an image of Bill Darr’s biography to a text document. It was a simple, fast solution to bypass the laborious task of typing the whole bio into an editable form.

The problem is that AI got it wrong. Very wrong. For example, the tool translated “southwest” to “southeast” and misinterpreted biographical facts from the original file. We edited the AI-generated document to be grammatically correct, but that doesn’t help when the copy to edit is inaccurate. With our sincerest apologies to the Darr family, a corrected version is printed on page 6. (Note: the online version is now correct.)

“AI has its place in helping us be more productive and solve complex problems, but it’s far from perfect.”

The silver lining is that the mistake increased our awareness of AI limitations, and we refined our processes. The technology can help streamline and speed up certain tasks, but it’s not foolproof. AI is only as intelligent as the information it is based on, which can generate biases and misinformation. When AI is used, the outcome requires extra scrutiny.

That’s important to remember as AI becomes more ingrained in everyday life. Search engines use AI to scan the internet, online retailers use it to suggest products for shoppers, and streaming services and social media use it to predict content users want to see. A Nashville record label even recently used AI to produce a new song for country artist Randy Travis, who can no longer sing due to a stroke.

In agriculture, AI is rapidly becoming transformative technology that can help farmers do everything from analyzing data and forecasting markets to monitoring crops and picking produce. Through AI, we now have self-driving tractors, devices that detect livestock diseases and sprayers that differentiate crops from weeds for targeted herbicide applications. MFA personnel saw positive results of this last year when we tested John Deere’s See and Spray Ultimate machine.

Yet, while the potential for AI is exciting, it’s also alarming. In agriculture, AI can make farms vulnerable to cybercrime and data leaks. In education, students can use an AI program to write entire essays, answer test questions or do their homework. Then there are more nefarious concerns. While using an AI learning model to help develop vaccines, scientists discovered the program could create drug combinations that were harmful as well as helpful. If a bad actor did something similar, the researchers warned, this technology could be used to design new chemical weapons.

We may not quite be to “The Terminator” age in which AI can become powerful enough to take over the world, but the technology is creating new legal, ethical and governance issues that must be considered and addressed. AI has its place in helping us be more productive and solve complex problems, but it’s far from perfect. We still need humans to proof its performance.

Read more of the June/July 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine HERE.

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