Farming is becoming a data-centric business powered by artificial intelligence. China’s big tech firms are using neural network-backed computer vision, wearable devices, and predictive analytics algorithms to reimagine pig, chicken, cow, goose, and cockroach farming.
The SCMP reports that Gooddoctor Pharmaceutical Group is using AI to cultivate up to six billion cockroaches per year in China’s southeast Sichuan province for medical uses. The operation has generated US$684 million in revenue and is backed by AI algorithms which collect and analyze up to 80 indexes of data, catering to the roaches’ humidity, temperature, and food requirements. AI also keenly monitors and stimulates the roaches’ growth and breeding rates.
Over the past year, Sichuan pig farming corporation Dekon Group and pig feed supplier Tequ Group have been working in partnership with Alibaba Cloud. By 2020, Dekon Group will breed up to 10 million pigs per year. The AI-backed computer vision and voice recognition systems can recognize pigs via numbers tattooed on their flanks and monitor vulnerable piglets for squeals of distress.
Alibaba competitor JD.com meanwhile has launched an AI chicken breeding project wherein each chicken wears a fitness tracker around the ankle. JD.com says it will buy the birds back at triple the price once they walk one million steps. JD Finance CEO Shengqiang Wang says the company wants to rebuild the entire farmhouse infrastructure, monitoring food intake, defecation, and other physiological conditions.
Poking fun at the trend on April Fool’s Day, Tencent announced the “grand opening” of a purported geese production facility in the mountains of Guizhou. In Chinese, “goose” (鹅) is written one hanzi character away from Tencent’s flagship mascot penguin (企鹅). A Tencent spokesperson claimed the company was starting a pilot goose farming project to explore the potential of “Agriculture + AI + Internet Smart Retail.” The company said the Guizhou operation would be located in excavated mountain caves, begin with 5,000 geese and scale up to 200,000. To further play on the hanzi pun, Tencent promised netizens it was considering adding swans (天鹅) and of course, penguins (企鹅).
Artificial intelligence is certainly revamping the animal farming industry, with more and more technology companies hopping onboard. Animal farming is no longer a difficult job plagued with sanitation problems. AI may provide more wholesome and sustainable solutions for this inevitable trend of mass production.
In Japan, Osaka University’s intelligent cow breeding system can detect contagious viral disease in livestock with up to 99% accuracy. The system is being adopted for cowhouses with automatic milking machines and feeding robots, and several Japanese dairy farms are using it along with wearable devices to fine-tune milking and feeding and provide real-time updates.
At the same time, computer vision or data manipulating software portals are just small nodes in the bigger IoT makeover of food production. While farmers may be initially skeptical of all these new-fangled cameras, fitbits, and smartphone apps, the AI farming wave is not likely to recede, rather it may completely change the farming status quo.
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