In the Netherlands we have come a long way with the development of artificial intelligence, but we must invest more in its application, as in France. From 25 to 27 January, researchers and businesses — led by departing State Secretary Mona Keijzer — will take a look into the French digital kitchen. Ben Schaap of the Wageningen Data Competence Centre (WDCC) has a key role in the field of agriculture and food.
The mission to France — which will take place online due to the coronavirus pandemic — is the first international exploration by the Dutch AI (artificial intelligence) Coalition, which was founded last year. The club, consisting of scientists, businesses (from Unilever to IBM), and stakeholder organisations (Patiëntenfederatie), must ensure that the Netherlands catches up in the field of artificial intelligence. Network coordinator at the Wageningen Data Competence Center (WDCC) Ben Schaap has, as the pioneering force in agriculture and food within the AI Coalition, shaped the virtual mission in these knowledge areas.
For three days, approximately 30 Dutch experts in the field of AI including TU Eindhoven and Kubota (supplier of agricultural machines) as well as WUR will consult with French colleagues and policy makers. The mission will be led by departing State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Mona Keijzer, together with Cédric O, French State Secretary for the Digital Sector. Schaap expects a lot from the knowledge exchange: "The French are more advanced when it comes to AI, so it is very interesting to see how scientists and big businesses are performing there. And we, in turn, also have a lot of expertise, so we also hope that there will be collaborations between startups, businesses, and researchers."
France Invests Heavily in AI
In 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron had already made €1.5 billion available for the development of artificial intelligence, some of which is used to establish national expertise centres. In the Netherlands, plans for a 1 billion growth fund have yet to be approved. Schaap: "The development of AI is decentralised in the Netherlands in various organisations such as universities and businesses. We form a good team and are collaborating in the AI coalition to set a course, but the Dutch approach is slower than the French top-down approach. They are more advanced as a result, including in scaling up startups using AI."
The Netherlands is Also Sharing Their Knowledge
The French can also teach us more about the use of AI in the areas of agriculture and food, such as in vertical farming (growing crops vertically indoors). Schaap also emphasises that the mission is not just to collect expertise in France: we are also sharing our knowledge. For example, the Netherlands — WUR in particular — is very advanced in the development of autonomous greenhouses, where computer models automatically optimise growing conditions. Next to that WUR invests in a high-tech greenhouse for phenotyping, a module within NPEC. WUR researchers Rick van de Zedde and Silke Hemming will discuss this with the French INRAE during the mission, which is one of the world's largest knowledge institutes in the field of agriculture. The branch organisation of the Dutch greenhouse builder AVAG and Hoogendoorn Growth Management are also part of this. Schaap: "Innovation is achieved by bringing together both knowledge and practice."
The mission will also address challenges facing both countries, such as the collection of farm data for precision agriculture (data-driven cultivation as efficiently and sustainably as possible). Schaap: "Farmers work with different systems, which makes data sharing difficult. Furthermore, farmers are reluctant to share their information because it is not clear what happens to their business data. This is the case in both countries.”
Corné Kempenaar will discuss this on behalf of WUR with Agdatahub, the expertise centre that is dedicated to this on behalf of the French Ministry of Agriculture. "To make the best possible use of artificial intelligence, you need as many different data sources as possible, which requires a good infrastructure," says Schaap. He is pleased that the mission will not only be an opportunity for experts to discuss this issue, but also for senior officials who are defining the policy on data sharing. "It seems that the Dutch and French are on the same page in this respect and that can bear fruit."