Agriculture This Week - The age of the machine is here

The prospect of an era where we herald in the age of the machine has lots of rather scary connotations, thanks largely to Hollywood and blockbuster hits such as the Terminator series.

Of course the age of the machine is not something that can be marked by a singular day, year or even decade, in terms of when humanity turned to machines. It is instead something that has evolved with mankind always rather eager to turn to a machine to lessen the burden of jobs from the manufacture of cars, to the mining of ore, to the harvesting of farm crops and almost every job in between.

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Let's face it, the computer that this column is written on is largely a machine that is a massive upgrade from the Underwood typewriter I began my journalism career on, and that typewriter was a big upgrade from the days of pen and paper and hot lead typesetting in the newspaper business.

So turning to machines is not new.

What is new is turning to machines which have a level of artificial intelligence, although even that is now a decades old evolution.

Assembly line production has relied on computer-controlled machines for years, and those can be considered early A.I. machines of a fashion.

And, now we are taking the next step, creating autonomous machines.

It's one thing to have an assembly line robot attached to it's spot on the line.

It is quite another when the robot can wander around on its own.

Farming however, a sector always eager to look to new technology that has benefits they can monetize, is looking rather closely at autonomous machines.

Think about a tractor or combine in the field running 24-hours a day, maybe powered by the sun, with no wages for a driver required. It sounds futuristic, but in this case the future may be now.

A recent story at www.producer.com revealed just how close it may be.

The article detailed,"more than 350 autonomous combines harvested 400,000 acres of Russian crop in 2020, bringing in 720,000 tonnes of grain. Equipping so many New Holland, Deere, Claas and Russian combines with the Cognitive Agro Pilot proved that big-acre autonomous field machinery has finally moved beyond the prototype stage. Cognitive Agro Pilot is a joint project developed by Moscow-based Sberbank and Cognitive Technologies group."

If this sort of news doesn't create interest among grain farmers, especially those with big acres to cover, and issues finding qualified operators to hire.

It seems only a matter of time, measured in scant years, before the next age of the machine takes over farm fields.

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