‘Cow fitbits’ and artificial intelligence are coming to the dairy farm. but some farmers aren’t so impressed. – the washington post gas bloating pain

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As silly as this intricate level of maximum optimization might sound, particularly in relation to a herd of cows that spend much of the day staring blankly or relieving themselves,Watson said, it could mean the difference between a cow’s healthy milking or premature death — and the difference between making or losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

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.

Connecterra, a development team based in the Netherlands, built Ida with help from TensorFlow, the giant AI toolbox that Google created for its own apps and opened to the public in 2015. That release sparked a major wave of AI development, giving start-ups a shortcut to calculating advanced mathematics and creating learning machines.

At 6-foot-4, with combine-wide shoulders and a Kiwi accent, the New Zealand-born Watson, 46, looks like a rugby player — which he was, playing a linebacker-like position in the late 1990s for a semiprofessional team called the Hurricanes. Shortly afterward, he moved to lead a cattle-grazing research program at the University of Georgia, where he taught and advocated for the increasingly rare practice of letting cows amble about aimlessly on a pasture, eating as they go.

His farm’s cattle — crossbreeds of America’s classic black and white moo cow, the Holstein, and New Zealand’s relatively slimmer brown Jersey bulls — spend almost all day grazing on the thousands of acres of ryegrass and Bermuda grass on his farms. That makes tracking their free-range eating and movement harder than at the average American “confinement” dairy, where cows are kept in stalls and fattened on corn and grains.

Spotting problems the old way required closely watching the herd day and night, “unless it’s really obvious — you know, she’s walking or limping or there are buzzards flying overhead,” Watson said. “Buzzards aren’t a particularly good health program.”

The cows’ orange transmitters beam data over the hills of Watson’s pastures to a set of antennae near the milking parlor. A “base station” computer then gulps up and processes all that sensor data, doing much of the AI work locally to avoid the problem of spotty rural Internet service. The sensors the animals wear pay the price for much of this data exchange, Connecterra co-founder Yasir Khokhar said: “You don’t want to know what cows do with them.”

The Ida AI was first trained to comprehend cow behavior via thousands of hours of video and sensor inputs, as well as simpler approaches, including Khokhar’s mimicking bovine techniques with a sensor in his pocket. (“I was the first cow,” he said.) Every day brings more cow data and farmer feedback that help the AI learn and improve.The AI, Khokhar estimates, has processed about “600 cow years of data” and gains about eight years of new cow data every day.

Agriculture has long been one of Big Technology’s juiciest target industries. Revamping the way farmers feed the planet, in the face of existential crises such as food shortages and climate change, would be audacious, revolutionary — and highly profitable. Start-ups and farmers are using camera-equipped robots to pick apples and sort cucumbers, running driverless tractors to harvest grain, and flying scanner drones to spot poachers and survey livestock.

But even some farmers who have invested heavily in new technology balk at the idea of paying for more. Everett Williams, the 64-year-old head of the WDairy farm near Madison, Ga., said his farm has all kinds of sensors that print out who-knows-how-many reports on matters such as cow activity and whether wild hogs have gotten into his pens. They give him less data than the Ida AI would, he says, but he feels that he doesn’t have the space in his brain for another data stream. “You can only handle so many text alerts,” he said.

Systems such as Connecterra also are enduring early criticism beyond the farm. Because AI can help detect early disorders and walking disabilities, conservationists have criticized the systems as encouraging the breeding of a super-cow by speeding underperformers to the slaughterhouse.