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As an Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) doctoral degree candidate, Monika Sziron has listened to her fair share of discussions on the ethics of artificial intelligence. Having grown up in a rural area, Sziron believes at least one economic sector has been noticeably absent from the dialogue.
“I would be at these large, very metropolitan conferences and we’d be talking about artificial intelligence and agriculture would just never come up in the conversations,” said Sziron. “In my head I was like, ‘Where is agriculture? Why aren’t we talking about agriculture more,’ where there are so many developments of artificial intelligence in agriculture now.”
Sziron points to driverless tractors and neck-mounted sensors on dairy cows as some current examples of emerging artificial intelligence in farming. She describes the technology as “layers and layers of (computer-based) neural networks, huge algorithms, code.”
“Computer systems are often much faster than humans and these systems do not get tired, do not need to sleep,” said Mustafa Bilgic, who oversees the private Illinois school’s master’s degree program in artificial intelligence and supervises Sziron’s doctorate work. “When we develop an (artificial intelligence) system that can analyze X-ray images accurately, it can analyze a lot more images than a human can analyze. For critical decisions, we need to make sure we use the systems for decision support, rather than in full-automation mode.”
Sziron, a rural Minnesota native, earned an undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and a master’s in digital communication and media arts from Chicago’s DePaul University. She continued to commute from Montgomery, which borders Kane and Kendall Counties, when accepted into IIT’s doctoral program.
“I want to make sure that ethical artificial intelligence in agriculture includes the farmers and includes the growers in the development process and deployment,” said Sziron. “I think a lot of companies are doing their part to include farmers and growers, but which farmers and growers becomes an ethical concern, right?”
She believes additional ethical considerations related to the use of artificial intelligence in agriculture includes ownership and privacy of data collected, animal care, labor and dangers of farming.
“Some of these things aren’t necessarily negative ethical things,” said Szirson. “Some people are looking at like, ‘Hey, this will be a positive ethical consequence, making us safer and more efficient.’”
She hopes to finish her doctorate degree later this year, but not before securing the opinions on artificial intelligence in farming from Illinois and other Midwest farmers to complete her work.
“I would love it if we could get more Illinois perspectives involved in the survey,” said Sziron. “It’s about five minutes long, it’s anonymous. I want farmers to tell me what’s going on, what are their issues, concerns and goals.”