Since the 1980s, China has rapidly modernized its pork industry to meet the demands of a growing middle class. To that end, half of the world’s pigs — some +700 million animals — are raised in China. To help manage this massive endeavor, the country’s farmers are turning to a decidedly untraditional tool: “artificial intelligence”. Earlier this month, Chinese tech giant Alibaba signed a deal with pig farming corporation Dekon Group and pig feed manufacturer Tequ Group to develop and deploy AI-powered pig-tracking systems. The deal is reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars, and will primarily rely on machine vision to replace the wireless radio frequency tags (RFID) used to follow pigs about farms. RFID tags are reliable, but expensive and time-consuming to manage. They have to be fitted to each pig and scanned individually for tracking. With millions of animals raised each year in large farms, this can cause quite a bottleneck. Machine vision technology, will track pigs using overhead cameras that identify numbers tattoed onto their bodies. At a basic level, this system will be able to count pigs and piglets, but Alibaba is hoping the system will offer much more. For example, by combining temperatures readings from infrared sensors they will be able to estimate the health of individual animals. “Voice” recognition tools will also alert farmers when piglets are being crushed by their mothers by listening out for young pigs; squeals. Alibaba claims this system could lower the death rate for piglets by three percent annually. Another will try to monitor the spread of disease by recording the sounds of pigs coughing. Obviously the goal is to bring down costs, increase safety and create tastier pork. The AI program featuring pig farming is just one part of what Alibaba calls their “ET Brain Plain” which has already been applied in fields such as civil aviation, transportation, environment and medical service. Alibaba is now expanding its business in agriculture. Apart from the pig farming industry, they are hoping AI can help make Chinese crop farming more efficient and less labor-intensive as well. For full disclosure, I personally own Alibaba (BABA) stock. (Source: Xinhua)

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