Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu
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A Human-centric Artificial Intelligence 

28 February 2020
Vatican City



Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to thank the Pontifical Academy for Life for convening this meeting on the highly relevant topic of artificial intelligence. 

I am very pleased to contribute to the interesting exchange by adding the perspective of food production, food security, and food systems as a whole into this discussion on AI.

Since I was also a scientist for more than 30 years – in BT and not IT – I consider AI to be a cross-cutting area between IT and BT, because when you talk of the AI, actually, it is just the new hybrid between IT and BT.

My speech will touch upon four points: How should AI be? In which areas of agriculture and food can we apply it? What is required for the digital transformation of agriculture? How can we implement this?

Machine learning made its way out of research labs and into our daily lives. The previous speeches already mentioned the very beautiful story on how we enjoy life based on innovations that promise to help us tackle humanity’s greatest challenges.

The significant impact upon the functioning of our societies and economies is evident.

Artificial Intelligence needs to be transparent, inclusive, socially beneficial and accountable. That’s why two speakers, Mr. Brad Smith and Mr. John Kelly already mentioned the principles that we should focus on and follow. 

And we need to ensure the human-centric approach in designing and implementing artificial intelligence today and in the future.

From a Food System transformation perspective, we look at digitalization, big data and AI as sources of hope – as part of a solution.

AI is a practical tool for advancing scientific and professional solutions to help farmers, foresters, fisher folk across the globe. 

Because Artificial Intelligence is about recognizing patterns, making sense of messiness and presenting powerful analysis. Agricultural in rural areas is always a complicated system so we need big data. We need computing to model, to analyze and to have a practical solution which is a comprehensive solution. 

Analyzing big data and using new technologies in our work is a real break-through: satellite imaging, remote sensors, mobile and blockchain applications, you name it. 

FAO already uses many of these tools in projects to optimize food chains, manage water resources, fight against pests and diseases, monitor forests, identify species, increase preparedness of farmers when disasters strike and in many other activities. 

A digital agriculture means a more efficient, sustainable agriculture. One that is much better able to improve rural livelihoods 

Turning agriculture and rural areas digital means revolutionary changes in biological and environmental factors, in agricultural processes such as production, operations, processing, management, marketing, and in rural governance.

This ambitious vision requires adequate Big Data Centers and Cloud Platforms. 

Databases containing information on arable land, on important agricultural germplasm, on shared rural assets and on farmers and agricultural businesses need to be set up.

The digital transformation of production operations will also need to be accelerated. This includes remote sensing of all aspects of planting, building digital livestock facilities, establishing smart aquaculture systems and digitizing the seed industry.

The digital transformation of related management services is also needed: To build a digital service program for rural agriculture, including smart environmental monitoring and digital governance. 

The necessary infrastructure that all of the above is based on will need to be established. Broadband connections, roads, bridges, and with all this data service provider.

All of the above also needs human capacity: Talent support, rural vocational training, and enhancing digital skills. Appropriate performance reviews, incentive systems will open new possibilities for youth and rural population.

And how do we coordinate all this at a global level? As Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, we will look at this point from a multi-lateral perspective.

The UN system has an important global role to play in balancing technological progress with social progress. 

In that respect, we need responsible innovation and a better understanding of the implications and the potential benefits of AI on the world. 

This includes looking at gaps between the developed and developing countries. 

And the digital gap is already a reality that needs to be addressed: 6 billion people are without broadband today, 4 billion without internet, 2 billion without mobile phones and even 400 million people are without any digital signal - so they are already completely ignored by the digital world. 

Additionally, there are significant gaps between men and women, young and old and clearly rich and poor. 

But there is also a gap in promoting dialogue, creating synergies and enhancing awareness for issues specific to digital agriculture.

So how can we close this ‘international gap’ between the key actors? And how can we bring about a fundamental shift in agriculture towards digitalization?

At the Global Forum for Agriculture last year, the international community tasked the FAO with designing and presenting a Digital Platform to address the issue of a digital agriculture. 

Earlier this year in Berlin, 76 Ministers endorsed FAO’s proposed International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture. 

And today I come here and I am really thanking the support from private sector like Microsoft and IBM and others - not only focusing on the market issues but also focus on food and agriculture issues and the environment of course. 

The Digital Platform will strive to engage all actors, players and stakeholders within the agri-food system, and will activate cross-sectorial and cross-competence experts to consolidate, enhance and diffuse the state of digitalization in the sector with a strategic approach. 

The Platform will help governments to identify the potential of digitalization, to enable stakeholders to access and benefit from digital technologies and it will facilitate dialogue, raise awareness and build trust in digital technologies. 

The task ahead of us is a big one. 

We are convinced that transforming our food systems to feed the world will be achieved with a digital agriculture and SDG – Sustainable Development Goals – of 2030 Agenda is our common consensus endorsed by the General Assembly of the UN.

As President John F. Kennedy said, also heard from Mr. Smith, technology has no conscience and people who master technology have a conscience, have a passion. Like Holy Father here, they always have a deep passion and love and heart for people. 

And food is a basic human right, not if you’re poor or rich and that is a fundamental demand to survive. 

FAO is willing to play its part as a facilitator, as a knowledge Organization, to help you use technology in the right way to help people in developing regions for their livelihood improvement. 

Thank you, thank you very much.