Data Science for the People, the Planet and their Prosperity

June 3, 2019

Over ten years ago, just a couple of months into starting my first job, I was asked by leadership to develop and deliver a presentation on artificial intelligence (AI). During that time, AI was pretty much unknown in our industry except among a few visionary leaders. This soon was followed by another ask - to assess the applicability of AI and machine learning to deliver better corn seed to farmers. I was on cloud nine! Here was the opportunity to blend two lifelong passions - AI and agriculture - to help feed the world.

At that time, I could not have imagined the trajectory AI would take in the years to come or the massive transformation AI would bring to our pipeline or that today Bayer Crop Science would employ over 500 people creating data-driven solutions. Although, at the beginning, I sometimes felt isolated from the broader organization, it allowed me to focus on the task at hand, learning how our scientists breed crops and make decisions, and on modeling that knowledge into a data solution.

Fast forward ten years and that experiment using machine learning algorithms to enable breeders to deliver better corn seed has proven hugely successful. The industry began to call this kind of experimentation “data science.” Today data science is a core component of our Bayer’s innovation toolbox. We use it extensively to enhance and accelerate our product development, increase operational efficiency and improve customer experience.

Last week, I had an opportunity to participate on a panel at the 2019 Digital Empowers Summit in Washington DC organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and engage in a conversation about how data science is helping the people, the planet and their prosperity. I shared examples of how we at Bayer are using data science and other advanced technologies to test 5x more corn varieties in our research pipeline, advance sustainability by reducing the miles our trucks travel and the acres our seed production centers use, and increase farmers’ prosperity with better, more timely seed, agronomic and weather recommendations.

It was inspiring to hear the panel members share their stories about leveraging data science to advance humanitarian efforts, improve healthcare and advance food health and safety. We all shared a common purpose: to nourish our people and our planet.

The conversation soon shifted to developing countries - to disparities in opportunities and outcomes, the specific challenges and how innovation can help all. We unanimously agreed that we must avoid a “digital divide” between developed and developing nations. Done right, digital tools will benefit all, providing small holder farmers access to platforms they would not have had otherwise.

Ten years after that first assignment, I am still amazed by the promise AI holds to solve major global issues and its potential to move huge segments of the population from poverty to prosperity. I’m also aware of the urgent work needed to ensure that the technology is used responsibly, ethically and empathetically. It’s crucial that we develop our AI capabilities in ways that align with shared human values, leveraging data science capabilities to care for our planet and empower its people. Thanks to U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation for bringing the members of this panel together for this open dialogue; dialogues like this one will help us move faster towards AI for the people, the planet and their prosperity.

[Editor’s Note: this article originally appeared here.]