Putting The “AI” In AgrIculture

By Paulina M. Starostka

Earlier this month John Deere unveiled the first ever self-driving tractor at CES, an annual trade show organized by the Consumer Technology Association, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to recognize the environment and navigate around it. While predecessor machines were already able to navigate limited GPS-defined routes or with behind-the-wheel assistance, the autonomous tractor expands on previous technology and obviates the need for hands-on assistance.   

The technology needed to run the tractor includes neural network algorithms similar to those used in self-driving cars. Information is collected through the cameras, analyzed, and used to train the algorithms used to power the AI tractor. Deere spent several years training its algorithms ahead of the launch, and as additional data sets become available, it is likely we will continue to see progressive growth in automotive—and agricultural—AI.

While some drawbacks include high costs and programming difficulties, as well as limited access to Deere's data by other agricultural companies, autonomous farming technology is nonetheless a welcome innovation in the face of an ongoing agricultural labor shortage. The pros and cons of AI's infiltration through an industry are not a new phenomenon: in a previous post we noted similar tug-and-pull happening in the food industry with the introduction of AI in the kitchen.

With the global population growing, AI assistance in the agricultural, food, and other industries may help curb labor and food shortages. However, with certain companies coming out as front-runners in AI technology advancements and potentially exploiting datasets needed for further innovations, it will remain to be seen whether the sentiment over a revamp in intellectual property (IP) protection for AI changes course from the USPTO's October 2020 report. The 2020 October report concluded that the US legal system is well equipped to handle the emerging issues raised by AI. Nixon Peabody will continue to monitor developments in industries expanding on AI and accompanying changes to the US IP legal system.

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Paulina M. Starostka


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