The Impact of the Turing Machine on AI and Agriculture
Agriculture is generally associated with tractors and fertilizers, not digital devices and IT. However, agriculture is currently the industry that is more reliant on digital technologies and pouring billions into developing AI solutions than any other. Self-driving tractors have been a reality for years, whereas self-driving cars are still not on the market. Predictive analytics are central to both indoor and outdoor agriculture these days, interpreting terabytes of data from sensors and steering equipment automatically. From aerial drones to smart collars, IoT (Internet of Things) has become ubiquitous, pervading farm work all over the world, and throughout the supply chain. The application of artificial intelligence and data processing has made farms far more efficient and able to detect issues at a very early stage as well as track performance, analyze and improve.
From tilling and cultivation to harvesting, processing, packaging and logistics, computing technology is critical in this day and age, and we owe it all to a man by the name of Alan Turing. While Steve Jobs and many other trailblazers and pioneers have also made immense contributions, they stand on the shoulders of this one man.
Widely regarded as one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, Turing was a multidisciplinary genius who made contributions not only to computer science but also to theoretical biology, successfully predicting oscillating chemical reactions. He was the inventor of the first general-purpose computer, known as the Turing machine, and is widely considered to be the father of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Turing’s career started during WWII during which time he built an electromechanical machine that was able to find the settings in Nazi Germany’s Enigma cipher machine. His genius played a crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Axis powers and laid the groundwork for computers like the ENIAC.
WWII was an immensely trying period for people all over the world and HVA was no exception. Factories in Indonesia were burned to the ground and employees and their families were either killed or captured and interned in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps where they suffered brutal treatment. Sadly, Alan Turing himself would also become a victim of brutal treatment, but ironically by the British government, whom he had helped defeat Nazi Germany.
In spite of Turing’s invaluable contributions to winning WWII, his work was highly classified and he was therefore completely unknown in the UK during his lifetime. As a result, he tragically became a victim of persecution by the State for his sexual orientation and was, like many homosexuals of his time, treated appallingly, and which likely led to his committing suicide at the age of 42. This became a source of immense embarrassment for the United Kingdom, and the British Prime Minister publicly apologized on behalf of the British government and the Alan Turing Law was enacted to retroactively pardon men convicted of homosexual acts. Turing was recently voted by the British public as the greatest person of the 20th century and currently appears on the Bank of England’s £50 note in recognition of his immense achievements.
In the decades following Turing’s contributions, collaborative efforts resulted in the invention of the microchip and microprocessor. The credit for this goes mainly to electronic engineers Robert Noyce, Jack Kilby, Gordon Moore and Ted Huff, many of whom received Nobel Prizes and became immensely wealthy as they founded companies like Intel. Silicon Valley became a household word and NASA famously used the microchip in the Apollo program in 1968. But it was not all easy going… These pioneers took significant risks and became known as “The Traitorous Eight” for abandoning their employer, who was a Nobel Prize laureate, to develop their inventions.
In this day and age, microchips exist in everything from smart phones and tablets to the RFID tags that HVA uses to track livestock and products through the supply chain.
While Turing remains largely unknown to most farmers, none of the technological marvels such as sensors or drones or weather forecasting that we rely on today would have been possible had it not been for this innovator. When he helped build the first digital computer it was based on his data-manipulation rule set, known as Turing-complete, which is still used in all programming languages.
So it is thanks to Turing that we today have precision agriculture and IoT-based, “smart” farming, which has increased productivity manifold while reducing costs, waste, water usage and environmental impact. Little did Turing know that his groundbreaking work in AI would lead to self-driving tractors plowing farmers’ fields, autonomous greenhouses, drones and apps monitoring crops and livestock, and industrial robots working alongside people. We have a lot to be grateful for and at HVA we know that this is only the beginning. IoT and AI is only in its infancy and is converging with developments in batteries, internet accessibility and apps to propel us into an exciting and far more sustainable green future.