Can artificial intelligence save our food system? From precision farming to personalized nutrition, there are many potential technological applications in farming, food production, and food consumption. However, technological performances, user acceptance, and practical applications of the technology continue to pose challenges. In this three-part series, Chiara Cecchini investigates the main challenges and opportunities of this niche, exploring how we might use artificial brains leverage to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being.
Artificial intelligence (AI) works by crunching a large amount of data to figure out patterns. Once clear patterns are defined, the methodology is strengthened as it is fed more data. The result is an artificial brain that gathers, analyzes, and interprets an amount of data that a human being would be unable to manage over an entire life. The more data it has and the more patterns it finds, the more accurate the interpretation will be.
One of the main impacts of artificial intelligence has been dropping prediction costs across various industries: reducing time and resources consumed for making decisions, along with resources wasted as consequence of inefficient processes. Predictions are about using data you have to generate data you don’t. Prediction empowers judgment by improving decisionmaking—AI makes this easier.
As human beings, we base our decisions on our limited knowledge and previous experiences. When it comes to the food we introduce to our body, the impact of a wrong decision is huge. Empowering eaters’ choice has the power to positively affect two of the main challenges of our time: obesity and malnutrition. Worldwide, 3.4 million people die from being overweight every year.
A growing number of companies are leveraging AI technology and Machine Learning to help eaters with these day-to-day food choices. Edamam, for example, is a New York-based company compiling a 50,000-item Food Database, says Founder and CEO Victor Penev, with a Recipe Analysis API, which allows customers to get nutrition information for any recipe or ingredient list in real time. Eaters type in the ingredients, and the artificial brain will do the rest.
Another startup in this space is Silicon Valley-based Passio. The company started from experiencing the difficulty of tracking diets as well as getting reliable, data-driven personalized nutrition advice. For these reasons, Passio is using image recognition and artificial intelligence.
Eight years ago, machines made about a 30 percent error rate on image recognition. Now, they are around 3 to 4 percent, while humans have a 5 percent error rate. Passio is “committed to creating a platform that would allow millions of people to effortlessly track, understand, and enrich diets,” CEO Dmitry Starson says.
Nail Grimmer, former co-founder of Plum Organics, founded Habit to collect genetics and metabolism data through a kit, using machine learning algorithms to determine user’s ideal diet. Users receive online guidance and have specially prepared meals delivered. Habit is the first company to apply both artificial intelligence and genetic data to the food system and accessibly bring it to the final consumer.
Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, says, “Ubiquitous, mobile supercomputing. Intelligent robots. Self-driving cars. Neuro-technological brain enhancements. Genetic editing. The evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed.”
AI has enormous potential impact. The sooner innovators start focusing how to harness this power, the bigger the value could be to the food system. According to Professor Klaus Schwab, we are just at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: an unprecedented fusion of technologies—such as gene sequencing, quantum computing, renewables, and artificial intelligence—that interact in the physical, biological, and digital domains will transversally hit every industry.
We are living in an unprecedented moment, and these changes have the potential to help ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages—as the United Nations committed to achieve by 2030 with the Sustainable Development Goals.