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Could AI be the answer to world hunger?

Yehia El Amine

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AI

The contributions of recent technological developments toward humanity has characterized this period in history as the best time to be alive. From advancements in the field of medicine, to construction, even reaching the service industry, we have made strides in bettering humanity’s quality of life.

But there remains a lot to be done; and the basic necessity that we need to address is that of world hunger, and many foresee that the biggest player to shift this landscape will be Artificial Intelligence (AI).

According to the World Economic Forum, the agriculture sector employs roughly 25 percent of the world’s population, while being responsible for feeding and sustaining 7.5 billion people.

Despite countless efforts by governments, NGOs, non-profits and the like, a staggering 1.9 billion people remain moderately or severely food insecure, and roughly 820 million do not get enough to eat on a daily basis, as per the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In parallel, the global population is projected to expand to almost 10 billion by 2050, experts estimate that feeding the planet will require farmers to grow 69 percent more calories than they did in 2006.

In the wake of increasing produce to meet global demand, humanity has wreaked havoc on the environment by cutting down forests and ploughing more farmland and grassland, which has contributed to almost 10 percent of global carbon emissions.

Massive areas within South America and continental Africa have taken the worst hits from this, while adding the effects of climate change and urbanization that pose an even greater risk to crop production.

The sooner changes can be enacted, the better.

While AI has suffered from a bad rep in the media due to people’s fearfulness of intelligent machines, new AI-powered businesses and startups are mushrooming everywhere to fight back against humanity’s biggest threats, from climate change to Covid-19.

The role of AI

AI already has hurdles that need to be dealt with and fast; since poverty-stricken people in remote areas require investment in basic infrastructure, social services, as well as law to support the proper distribution of food.

With all that in mind, AI can prove to be the biggest protagonist within this struggle by lowering operational costs, simplifying access to local and international markets. Thus, unlocking this valuable information and knowledge can be the main catalyst in supporting people’s decision-making in the most productive and sustainable way.

In addition, an investment into AI can bring with it a pool of financial and technical resources from a myriad of diverse partnerships that would lay the foundations for more sustainable farming – making it easier for decisions and policy makers to apply AI solutions within their programs.

However, an effective outcome requires alignment between the discourse of AI integration and human values. People, governments, and enterprises across the board need to understand that the role of AI will be placed for the greater good of serving humanity, shying away from the “stealing our jobs” narrative to look at the bigger picture.

AI in smart farming

The world needs to change its direction when it comes to feeding the world, by transitioning from small farming to smart farming.

Smart farming unlocks the power of precision, using real time data coupled with algorithms to analyze a huge volume of data to ascertain common patterns and in turn transform those patterns into predictions.

An example of this can be made through cost cutting in reducing waste, where algorithms and machine learning can apply the necessary resources of pesticides, water, and the like according to the needs of each patch of land.

In parallel, real time insights with the help of sensors, in-field cameras, and micro weather data can provide farmers with the most accurate information to make the best possible decisions. Early signs of damage to the crop can be detected and addressed with the help of deep learning and computer vision algorithms.

“There might be a number of crop related issues that can skip the eyes of humans but can be detected with the help of proven and well-trained algorithms. These smart sensors are able to detect rainfall, humidity, crop water demands, water stress, micro-climate data, canopy biomass, chlorophyll and so much more,” a report by the World Economic Forum said.

What’s happening on the ground?

There are a number of companies and initiatives that are already being worked on as we speak. The greatest example of this is an AI company called Prospera, that is training powerful algorithms on vast new datasets to improve the efficiency and performance of traditional farms.

Prospera collects 50 million data points every day across 4700 fields, which are then analyzed with the help of AI to identify pests and disease outbreaks, while digging up new opportunities to increase yields and reduce the carbon footprint by eliminating waste.

Another approach being taken by companies such as Plenty and Aerofarms is vertical indoor farming which utilizes AI algorithms to optimize nutrient inputs and increase yields in real time.

Others such as Root AI, are using computer vision coupled with robotics to identify when fruit is at its ripest.

It is important to note that the most advanced forms of vertical indoor farming are estimated to produce over 20 times more food per acre than traditional fields, using roughly 90 percent less water.

The industrial meat production sector also has a cut of the action.

Companies such as Latin American NotCo and Fazenda Futuro are using AI tools to analyze plant data to identify the best circumstances to replicate the taste and texture of meat.

The market has obviously taken note of this, with sales of refrigerated plant-based meat growing by a whopping 125 percent. This is necessary since meat production accounts for almost 50 percent of global agricultural emissions, according to the FAO.

Government contributions

The private sector isn’t the only one riding this bandwagon. Governments across the globe are also looking to ride the winds of change in hopes of providing better feeding conditions for their citizens.

An example of this was brought about by a partnership between the World Economic Forum and the government of India to identify high-value use cases for AI in agriculture, develop innovative AI solutions, and drive their widespread adoption.

And the world is swiftly following suit; such as investments by the government of Zimbabwe will intensify climate smart agriculture, a farming technique that helps farmers to be more productive on a warming planet, than adopting “harmful” genetically modified crops.

In parallel, the government of Japan formulated “the Basic Plan for Food, Agriculture, and Rural Areas,” in March 2020 which shows the direction of measures with a vision for approximately the next 10 years.

Australia has already allocated millions of its budget to improving landcare, waste management, and farming sustainability.

While no single technology can solve the world’s biggest problems, the integration of AI could be a stepping stone to a more accurate and efficient future that the world is desperately in need of.

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

Technology

Gains for some tech giants nudge S&P to another record high

Associated Press

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Tech S&P

Technology companies helped lift stocks higher on Wall Street, nudging the S&P 500 to its third straight all-time high, even as other parts of the market faltered.

A burst of buying in the final 10 minutes of trading sent the benchmark index 0.2% higher. The S&P 500 had been down 0.3% earlier amid another bout of choppy trading as Wall Street awaits the latest take from the Federal Reserve on inflation.

Investors are trying to gauge the strength of the economic recovery and whether emerging signs of inflation will be transitory, as the central bank believes. The Fed delivers its interest rate policy update Wednesday afternoon.

“Most of this is just positioning in front of the Fed later this week,” said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at All Star Charts. Investors are “trying to get a sense of not just what the Fed is going to say in terms of announcements, but what they expect in terms of the path of monetary policy and the economy going forward.”

The S&P 500 added 7.71 points to 4,255.15. The index has notched a weekly gain three weeks in a row. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 85.85 points, or 0.2%, to 34,393.75. The Nasdaq rose 104.72 points, or 0.7%, to 14,174.14.

Small-company stocks fell. The Russell 2000 index lost 9.66 points, or 0.4%, to 2,326.15.

Among the tech sector winners Monday were Apple, which rose 2.5%, and Adobe, which gained 2.9%. Several large communications companies also made gains. Facebook rose 1.7% and Netflix gained 2.3%. Those gains offset a broad decline in financial, industrial and materials stocks, among others. JPMorgan dropped 1.7%.

Wall Street is trying to gauge the strength of the economic recovery, the impact rising inflation is having on its trajectory, and the Fed’s next move.

Investors have been worried that the Fed could ease up on bond purchases and other stimulus measures as the economy recovers. No policy changes are expected immediately, but comments on a shift in policy could jostle an already skittish market.

Fed officials have maintained that any rise in inflation will be temporary as the economy recovers.

“There’s still this debate on inflation and, notwithstanding what the Fed does and whether yields move down, there’s still some upward pricing pressure,” said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager with Globalt Investments.

A boost in demand for goods has helped fuel a rise in the cost of everything from food to cars and household goods. Shipping costs are also rising and adding to the increase in prices. The uncertainty over inflation has been fueling much of the back-and-forth in the market between stocks that are considered safer value holdings versus those with more potential for sharp growth.

“As you go into the summer and you have uncertainty about inflation, the fed and the stimulus, you’ll kind of see people neutralizing bets,” Martin said.

Lordstown Motors sank 18.8% after the CEO and CFO resigned as problems mount for the startup electric truck maker.

Novavax gave up an early gain, dropping 0.9%. The vaccine maker said its COVID-19 shot was highly effective against the disease and also protected against variants in a large study in the U.S. and Mexico. The company is facing raw-material shortages, though, and plans to seek authorization for the shots by the end of September.

Bond prices fell, sending yields mostly higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.50% from 1.46% late Friday.

“You don’t get a message from the bond market that it’s worried either about persistent inflation or about the Fed doing something dramatic in terms of not being the buyer of bonds that it has been in recent quarters,” Delwiche said.

European markets were mostly higher. Several markets in Asia were closed for a holiday.


By DAMIAN J. TROISE and ALEX VEIGA AP Business Writers

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Google Announces Google Workspace for Everyone

Inside Telecom Staff

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Google Workspace

Google announced on Monday a series of updates that build upon its vision to deliver a single, integrated communication and collaboration solution to everyone via Google Workspace.

Now, all of the company’s three billion-plus existing users across consumer, enterprise, and education have access to the full Google Workspace experience, including Gmail, Chat, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Meet and more.        

In addition to offering Google Workspace to everyone, the company announced new innovations that address the specific challenges and opportunities of the hybrid work world:

  • The evolution of Rooms in Google Chat to Spaces
  • A new individual subscription offer: Google Workspace Individual
  • New enhancements to Google Meet that enable collaboration equity
  • New security and privacy capabilities across Google Workspace

“Collaboration doesn’t stop at the workplace – our products have been optimized for broad participation, sharing and helpfulness since the beginning,” said Javier Soltero, VP and GM, Google Workspace. “Our focus is on delivering consumers, workers, teachers and students alike an equitable approach to collaboration, while still providing flexibility that allows these different subsets of users to take their own approach to communication and collaboration.”

“With this update, Google Workspace is creating a new competitive advantage by optimizing for a single, connected experience across its products that it is extending to consumers and individual business owners, to align with the experience that its enterprise and education subscribers benefit from today,” Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst, Moor Insights & Strategy, said in a statement.

Google Workspace for everyone

Every day, the world’s most innovative companies, schools and nonprofits use Google Workspace to transform how people work and achieve more together.

It’s a daily part of how leading healthcare providers revolutionize patient care, schools turn remote learning into an immersive, personalized experience, and aerospace companies rethink flight. Starting today, Google Workspace is available to anyone with a Google account, meaning friends, family, or groups of any kind can stay connected, work together, and share helpful information in a single space.

For example, you can organize a junior sports league with ease, take that fundraiser to the next level, or even turn a hobby into a business. Starting today, users can enable the integrated experience in Google Workspace by turning on Google Chat in Gmail.

Connecting content and people in powerful ways

With the introduction of Spaces, the Rooms experience in Google Chat will evolve into a dedicated place for organizing people, topics, and projects in Google Workspace. “Over the summer, we’ll evolve Rooms to become Spaces and launch a streamlined and flexible user interface that helps teams and individuals stay on top of everything that’s important,” a statement by the search engine said.

Powered by new features like in-line topic threading, presence indicators, custom statuses, expressive reactions, and a collapsible view, Spaces will seamlessly integrate with files and tasks, becoming a new home in Google Workspace for getting more done—together.

Spaces will also provide a place to fuel knowledge sharing and community building for teams of all sizes, where all the relevant information, conversations, and files for a project can be organized, and where topics—even at the organization level—can be intelligently moderated.

With the ability to pin messages where everyone can see them, Spaces will play a crucial role in helping people stay connected and informed.

Google Workspace Individual

Google Workspace is also launching Workspace Individual, a powerful, easy-to-use solution that was built to help individual business owners grow, run, and protect their business. This new subscription offering provides premium capabilities, including smart booking services, professional video meetings and personalized email marketing, with much more on the way.

Within their existing Google account, subscribers can easily manage all their personal and professional commitments from one place with access to Google support to get the most out of their solution.

Workspace Individual is rolling out soon to six markets, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, and Japan.

A single, connected experience

As businesses move to a hybrid work environment, the importance of creating secure collaboration spaces and fostering human connection has never been more important. Because Google Workspace was designed to fuel anywhere, anytime collaboration, it’s now helping millions of organizations navigate the challenges and opportunities of the newly emerging work model.

Customers are using Google Workspace to rethink virtual meetings, provide people with modern tools to stay connected and manage their time and attention, and double down on security and privacy.

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Apple reaffirms privacy stance amid Trump probe revelations

Associated Press

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Seeking to protect its image as a guardian of personal privacy, Apple maintains it was blindsided and handcuffed by a Trump administration probe that resulted in the company handing over phone data from two Democratic congressmen.

Apple delivered its version of events Friday in response to news reports detailing the U.S. Justice Department’s aggressive attempts to use its legal power to identify leaks tied to an investigation into former President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

The Justice Department was able to persuade a federal grand jury to issue a subpoena that culminated in Apple turning over the metadata — information that can include general records of calls and texts — about House Intelligence Committee members Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both California Democrats, during 2018. Both lawmakers were key figures on the committee looking into Trump’s connections with Russia; Schiff is now the panel’s chair.

Neither Schiff and Swalwell knew some of the information had been seized until May 5, after a series of gag orders had finally expired, according to the company.

The revelation of Apple’s compliance with the subpoena emerged at a time when the company has been ramping up efforts to frame privacy as “fundamental human right” in its marketing campaigns. Apple also upped the privacy ante in April when it rolled out privacy controls on the iPhone as part of an effort to make it more difficult for companies such as Facebook to track people’s online activities to help sell ads.

In a statement, Apple emphasized it will continue to fight unjustified legal demands for personal information and keep customers informed about them.

But in this instance, Apple said it was constrained by a nondisclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge and said it had no information about the nature of the investigation.

“It would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts,” the Cupertino, California, company said. “Consistent with the request, Apple limited the information it provided to account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or pictures.”

Apple also believes other technology companies may have been confronted with similar legal demands, based on the broad nature of the request it received for “customer or subscriber account information” spanning 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses.

It remains unclear how many other companies may have been swept up in the Trump administration’s attempt to track down leakers.

In a statement, Microsoft acknowledged receiving at least one subpoena in 2017 related to a personal email account. It said it notified the customer after the gag order expired and learned that the person was a congressional staff member. “We will continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this,” the company said.

Privacy experts were more troubled by the U.S. laws that allowed the Justice Department to secretly obtain the subpoenas and then keep them under wraps for years than by Apple’s limited compliance with the demands.

The subpoenas represent a “a quintessential example of government abuse” that ensnared Apple, said Alan Butler, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“It’s very difficult to challenge these types of subpoenas, but it’s not impossible,” Butler said. “And if there ever was one worth challenging, it might have been these.”

Apple’s response to the subpoena doesn’t necessarily contradict its stance on the sanctity of personal privacy, said Cindy Cohn, executive director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. That’s because Apple privacy commitments mostly revolve around shielding its customers from online surveillance.

She thinks the bigger issue is why U.S. law allows a grand jury to issue a subpoena and then block Apple from alerting the affected people.

“The overall secrecy of this is troubling, especially since it appears to have all been a politically motivated investigation,” Cohn said.

Apple has a history of fighting legal requests, most notably in 2016 when the Justice Department sought to force Apple to unlock the iPhone owned by one of the killers in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Apple refused to cooperate, contending it would open a digital backdoor that would pose threats to the security and privacy of all iPhone users. The legal showdown ended when the FBI hired another firm to unlock the iPhone connected to the shooting.

“Apple really put its money where its mouth is that time,” Butler said.


SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — By MICHAEL LIEDTKE AP Technology Writer.

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