‘Cow Fitbits’ Are Coming to the Dairy Farm

Drew Harwell reported earlier this week at The Washington Post Online that, “In the two months since Richard Watson strapped 200 remote-control-sized transmitters around his cows’ necks, an artificial-intelligence system named Ida has pinged his phone with helpful alerts: when his cows are chewing the cud, when they’re feeling sick, when they’re ready for insemination.

“‘There may be 10 animals out there that have a real problem, but could you pick them?’ he said one morning, standing among a grazing herd of dairy cattle wearing what he calls ‘cow Fitbits.’

“But on neighboring pastures here in rural Georgia, other farmers say they aren’t that impressed.”

The article noted that, “Sophisticated AI technologies are helping reinvent how Americans work, offering powerful software that can read and react to mountains of data and save time and stress along the way.

“But the rollout is also sparking tensions in workplaces as humble and old-fashioned as the dairy farm. That down-home resistance raises a question farmers might be tackling before much of the rest of the workforce: Can new technology ever beat old intuition — even when it comes to a bunch of cows?

“The AI that Watson’s farm uses — called Ida, for ‘The Intelligent Dairy Farmer’s Assistant’ — tracks his cows’ tiniest movements through their collars and then graphs and dissects them en masse. Those ‘real-time cattle analytics’ are then used by the AI to assess diet and movement and predict health issues of concern, such as lameness or udder infections.”

The Post article added that, “The Ida AI has sparked some early interest among farmers eager to compete in an industry in which low milk prices and farm layoffs have everyone on edge. And while truck drivers and cashiers see AI as an omen of job elimination, the farmers say they’re in a labor crunch from years of too few young people getting into farming and need all the help they can get.”

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