Creating abundant ecosystems through new agricultural methods

Synecoculture

Synecoculture is an approach by Sony CSL in which ecosystems are artificially created for cultivating a rich variety of crops while also enriching local biodiversity. Proving tests conducted in Japan and sub-Saharan Africa have already yielded substantial results. We intend to harness the power of AI to understand complex ecosystems that are too difficult for the human mind alone to comprehend, and apply the findings to further initiatives.

Masatoshi Funabashi Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. (Sony CSL)

Masatoshi Funabashi Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. (Sony CSL)

Producing food to enrich nature

Increased food production should result in various lifeforms including plants, animals, and microbes, creating a rich ecosystem. This is synecoculture. Furthermore, we are extending our goals to involve various social and industrial activities, in new ways to enrich the natural environment and biodiversity. We are aiming for a positive feedback loop in which cultural diversity creates ecological diversity, and vice versa.

The Earth contains more than 30,000 known species of useful plants with applications in food or materials, but agriculture is presently focused toward growing a small number of specific crops. This bias is destroying the natural environment and damaging biodiversity throughout the world. In order to resolve these issues, Sony CSL started the Synecoculture Project in 2010, and proving tests conducted in Japan and sub-Saharan Africa have yielded various results.

Using technology to gain a fuller understanding of complex ecosystems

A multitude of issues must be considered before actually implementing synecoculture. Combinations abound as to which plants to plant, associations between plants, and how to control vegetation succession afterward. Big data analysis and AI are extremely powerful, direct tools for learning these combinations and communicating them to other people. As animals, we humans do not immediately understand how plants attempt to grow or how ecosystems attempt to skillfully circulate materials. Using various sensors to measure environments and activities of diverse lifeforms makes it possible to acquire information with multi-scale resolution and consolidation regarding the current state of ecosystems. We believe that we can transform various information on nature's dynamics in a form that humans can understand its long-term consequences.

Humans and AI will get closer and grow together.

AI can be described as machines with intellectual capacities surpassing those of humans. Thus, although there is concern that AI could alienate humans, it has more potential to be a good partner to humans and to help them. The capacities of AI and humans are often compared, but I feel more appropriate to compare AI to social systems. Whether collective decision-making is political or an economic system, the scale of the data is beyond the ability of any one individual to comprehend, yet AI exhibits amazing power with that scale of data, and could become an extremely powerful helper. In that case, humans and AI will grow together, and the quality of the AI used by these more knowledgeable humans will differ completely from that of the AI used by the less knowledgeable humans. In other words, we should be able to create a society where humans and AI develop further in step with each other. Synecoculture most certainly involves creating culture, and AI is the technology that supports it.

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