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Panel At IFPA Global Produce And Floral Show Addresses AI

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Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 10:42 am

“Technology does not scale linearly. It scales exponentially.” That comment from Patrick Vizzone, executive director of DiMuto, perhaps best sums up the CEO Panel on Oct. 19 at the IFPA Global Produce and Floral Show in Anaheim, California.

The panel – Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of SHRM; Elliott Grant, CEO of Mineral, an Alphabet company; and Andrea Albright, EVP, sourcing for Walmart – covered a range of topics, from inflation and wage hikes to the improving supply chain. But they zeroed in on artificial intelligence. 

“When you think about computing power … doubling every year, when we’re all sitting here in 2033, AI and computing power is going to be 1,000 times what it is now,” said Vizzone, who moderated the panel.

To which Grant replied, “As mind-blowing as this is, when we’re here in 2034, it’s going to be 2,000 times more powerful.”

It was the consensus of the panel that technology, particularly AI, will continue to improve and increase in prominence throughout every industry. Grant noted that AI will be “at or above human-level performance” within the next decade.

“It will replace many tasks that we take for granted today,” he said. “Now, that sounds a little scary, but I am very optimistic about it. And here’s why: AI should be more like an Iron Man suit and less like the Terminator.”

Starting with quality inspection, Grant shared four predictions he has for the use of AI in the produce and grocery industries. 

“The produce industry relies on quality inspection every day. And it hasn’t changed in 50 years…It relies on humans who are well-trained to do a very difficult task very quickly,” he explained. “And as a result, our inspection rates are really quite low. Performance is quite inconsistent.” 

According to Grant, AI has begun to take over aspects of the quality control process. Technology will also be able to gather and process data across the entire supply chain. 

“We’ll know where it was grown, what seed variety is used, what practices were used, and – combined with the AI capabilities for reasoning – we’ll be able to give instant feedback to growers … In the future, we’ll have a total quality management system for projects that will look nothing like what it is today,” he said. 

IFPA panel

Second, AI’s knowledge generation capabilities could provide new avenues for food production, Grant said. 

“What new knowledge is yet to be discovered in the world of agriculture? What’s driving yield, what’s driving flavor, what’s driving shelf life? All these areas have to be discovered,” he said. “And AI has the potential to look at these vast data sets and discover new patterns that we haven’t seen before.”

Third, technology will continue to become more accessible. 

“We will all have the world’s greatest knowledge base in our pocket,” Grant said. “You will have the world’s best agronomist, you have the world’s best merchandiser … sitting with you helping make decisions.”

He conceded his fourth prediction was perhaps the “most audacious” – AI will radically rethink the way every system operates. 

“What if all of the thousands of growers were able to collaborate with data … to run huge experiments that couldn’t possibly be done by a single company,” he said. 

On behalf of the IFPA’s audience, Taylor raised possible concerns about the rise of AI. 

“What human beings heard is, ‘I’m not going to have a job when this is all done.’ And that is the problem,” he said. “We know that two things bother human beings – a threat to their lives, COVID, and now a threat to their livelihoods, AI.”

There will continued hesitance to adopt technology that threatens any business model. All three panelists agreed people need to learn to work alongside AI to achieve the best results. Using the term, “AI plus HI” Taylor said the combined processing power of technology and the innovation of humans will lead to the best ROI processes. 

Instead of fearing technology, companies should embrace it. Likewise, people should be willing to use the technology to improve their work, according to Albright. 

“When you think about technology, we need to think about human-powered, tech-enabled,” she said. “Humans are going to always be at the core of a lot of work that we’re doing. [Humans] need to anticipate things that tech can’t anticipate. 

“They also do work that’s more creative. That’s when we have tech-enabled. Yes, their jobs are going to change, but they’re going to create new opportunities.”

Historically, humans have been resistant to change. However, to remain successful, they must be willing to move forward with technology, Albright said. “If you don’t, somebody else will.”

Read more technology and produce news from The Shelby Report.

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