Putting Artificial Intelligence Within Reach

Web AdminResearch, Technology

By J. Scott Angle, jangle@ufl.edu, @IFAS_VP

It used to be that game-changing technology was out of the reach of all but the biggest producers. Artificial intelligence (AI), though, can fit the size of your phone and the size of your wallet if it’s done right.

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That’s why the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has put AI at the center of its vision for the future of Florida farming. This is about keeping you globally competitive by lowering your costs, your reliance on imported labor and your nutrient loads. It’s about increasing your yields, your understanding of what consumers will buy and your profits.

AI is a Swiss Army knife of technology. We used AI to develop a phone app that can identify nutrient deficiency and disease symptoms on citrus leaves. Our plant breeders are sifting through millions more candidates for the perfect potato, tomato or berry than they could without AI. They’re even designing “smart” packaging that will tell you which fruit you need to move first. If you can afford a smartphone, seeds and something to ship your produce in, AI applications could be well within your reach sooner than later.

We’re the ones making the big upfront investment, so you don’t have to. UF is putting $80 million into making your land-grant the nation’s leading AI public university. With some of those funds allotted to UF/IFAS, we’re hiring 15 faculty members with expertise in AI. We’ve gained access to the nation’s fastest AI supercomputer in higher education and started buying equipment and software to develop prototypes.

While we intend to bring this technological revolution to every corner of the state, we are developing a hub to bring together the critical mass of expertise to think, tinker and pitch to investors and companies. We invite you in to see, touch and critique.

The Center for Applied AI in Agriculture will draw our expertise from around the state to concentrate our vision for agriculture advances of the future and unleash the potential of new AI faculty like Dana Choi and Kevin Wang of the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.

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Dana Choi presented at the UF/IFAS Artificial Intelligence Summit.
Photos by Brianne Lehan, UF Photography

Choi applies AI to affordable mechanization such as robots. Wang uses AI to sort through mountains of genetic data to look for the most promising varieties of crops for your fields.

In addition to Wang and Choi, new AI faculty members include:

  • Charlie Messina, who uses AI to predict how plants respond to drought and other stresses so breeders can create varieties faster that work best in Florida fields.
  • Jose Reyes, who makes longer-lasting biosensors for crops.
  • Henry Medeiros, whose focus will be robotics and mechanization.
  • Boce Zhang, who wants to use smart packaging to get more of your crop to the store shelves unspoiled.

We continue to bring great minds together through gatherings like this summer’s two-day UF/IFAS AI Summit. Day one was a festival of dazzling possibility as faculty members presented ideas for AI applications. The next day, an advisory board gave us real-world feedback on what they heard and what they saw as most likely to move the needle.

AI is about teaching machines to do things to keep you in business. It’s about converting overwhelming amounts of data into a form you can trust to make decisions quickly. We’ll bring you affordable technology and reliable information through artificial intelligence. You bring the wisdom.

J. Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of UF/IFAS.