AgFunder News: Forget Self-Driving Tractors; Agriculture’s AI Should be Modeled on Iron Man

Marvel’s Iron Man suit might seem an unlikely source of inspiration for growers, writes Joseph Byrum on Once the otherwise ordinary engineer Tony Stark puts on the suit, he gains all of the powers of a true superhero. At the heart of these capabilities is an integrated artificial intelligence (AI) system called Jarvis, which stands for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System. In later sequels, an upgraded AI called Friday takes over.


In addition to running the Stark household, Jarvis manages the functions of Iron Man’s suit in a way that allows the person wearing it to say what he needs, leaving it to the AI to figure out how best to make it happen. The Iron Man movies offer a vision of the future with intelligent augmentation.

More commonly, we see self-driving cars held out as the exemplar of where AI is headed. After all, autonomous vehicles can already provide impressive demonstrations of their capabilities, despite occasional bugs and setbacks that will be sorted out over time. Under this model of AI technology, the machine takes over, and the human is just along for the ride. This is also the AI model found in other works of science fiction that feature machines with a serious case of megalomania and a desire to destroy now-useless humanity.

That’s another reason to favor the Iron Man model. It shows us that it is possible to combine man and machine in a way that allows both to achieve more together than they could apart. This is the model that can truly take agriculture into the next era of productivity.


Before considering how such a thing would play out in the fields, it might be easier to consider a simpler example from the world of finance, where the role of computers is more obvious. At the most fundamental level, all computers do is perform trillions of mathematical calculations every second. This level of calculating power means a financial risk forecast can be completed in an instant. In the past, you’d need a room full of people armed with slide rules — and a few hours — to perform an equivalent analysis. The speed and accuracy of the modern calculations bring the information to the analyst in real-time. That’s a massive advantage — and also a liability.


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