NWO grant for project on Artificial Intelligence in Agri food

February 8, 2022

Wageningen University & Research congratulates Vincent Blok and Simone van der Burg with their NWO funding of the project : Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Sustainable Food Systems (AI4SFS) laboratory.

Vincent Blok leads the project and is associate Professor in philosophy of technology and responsible innovation at the Philosophy Chair Group: 'We are very happy. This allows to show the relevance of the Social Sciences Group (SSG) work for digitalization. This is sometimes ignored, yet often it is lack of trust in AI that hinders its success. We think the provision of grants from this type of work by the AI Coalition shows recognition of this.'

People have no clue what AI brings to agri

AI in agriculture, why did nobody think of the ethical, legal and societal impacts for farmers before? Simone van der Burg, senior researcher ethics and responsible research and innovation at Wageningen Economic Research and co-lead of this project: ‘Right now people have no clue what AI can bring to agri, nor what dangers it may imply. An example: If a farmer contributes to an AI project by sharing data on their daily milk output, they want the data to be used anonymously as not to inform competing farmers on their company’s output. But how do you protect their data? This is what the ELSA lab is for.’ 

Ethical Robots

Simone continues.. ’AI robots will take over jobs of humans and are expected to profoundly change the labor market in the agri-food sectors. What are the threats for human laborers? And what opportunities do robots offer to create better and more meaningful work?  A weeding robot can accidentally take out the crops instead of the weeds, thus destroying the harvest. Who can be held responsible for that? And who must pay for the damage? An algorithm is trained to seek the best investments for a large agri company, which leads to enhanced profits. However, the algorithm therewith eventually commits fraud. The definition of ‘fraud’ presupposes a human criminal. Can we blame the algorithm? ‘

Tools and guidelines at ELSA lab

With the 2.2 million grant the research team will design a methodology including tools, ethical and legal guidelines and engagement strategies around the use of AI in the agri-food sector. Furthermore, they will conduct six case studies where ELSA aspects will be integrated in AI design.

During the project the researchers hope to expand the number of case studies and add additional projects to the ELSA lab, connecting the network and expertise of the Wageningen Research Centers closer to the lab. After the project ends, they hope to have realized an ELSA hub for responsible agri-food AI applications, which is the place to turn to for high level research and practical know-how regarding how to attend to ELSA in AI development and implementation.

WUR expertise and collaboration

The research team includes members from various groups at WUR such as Josephine van Zeben (law), Pepa Plana Casado (law), Ricardo da Silva Torres (Wageningen data competence center), Guido Camps (food and AI at AFSG), Bedir Tekinerdogan (information technology), Corne Kempenaar (agrosystems research at Plant, and Aeres Hogeschool) and Gert Kootstra (agrarian technology).’

‘This is an opportunity to bring the existing social scientific expertise in digitalization together and to engage in close collaborations with the technical sciences at WUR ‘ stated Blok.

A wider consortium of stakeholders steers and advises our ELSA lab team and/or provides case studies. They are related to the following organisations: Province Gelderland, Oost NL, AI Hub Oost NL, FME, OnePlanet, ZLTO, FarmResult BV, ICT Campus Veenendaal, Regiodeal FoodValley, Noldus Information Technology BV, VicarVision, ConnectedCare.