Syngenta’s AI Challenge Sows Seeds of Sustainability

Syngenta aims to help improve food sustainability by using AI.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is often discussed in terms of the threat it poses, whether real (automation disrupting industries) or imagined (AI taking over the human race).

The AI for Good Foundation, however, is committed to helping the world through AI, and has partnered with Syngenta, an agrochemical company, to launch the Syngenta AI Challenge.

Syngenta and the AI for Good Foundation are trying to improve food sustainability through the use of AI.

Participants are required “to develop a model that could be used to help scientists analyse large amounts of seed data more efficiently and effectively.” They will be tasked to find out “which soybean varieties will perform better in farmers’ fields in 2015 and 2016?”

To do this, entrants will be provided with a large range of data over a four-month period. This information will cover both results from experimental trials carried out in previous years as well as characteristics related to geography and soil quality of the seeds. They will then officially submit their efforts at a global conference on June 1st of this year and the finalists will be announced by July 14th.

The submission will be a detailed process – not only is a computer model required through Microsoft’s CodaLab, but a scientific write-up between 5 and 20 pages has to accompany it. All this work comes with significant rewards though, with a total prize fund of US$15,000 to be split between those who place first ($7,500), second ($5,000) and third ($2,500).

Joseph Byrum, Senior R&D Strategic Marketing Executive at Syngenta, talked about the way that AI can be used for deeper analysis of seed data.

“[With] a rising global population, we need to grow plants that can adapt and thrive in changing conditions – especially as vital resources like water and land are finite. The AI Challenge is about creating models that can help solve this puzzle and ensure world food security.”

James Hodson, co-founder and CEO of the AI for Good Foundation, reiterated the positive use AI can have on sustainability.

“If AI is going to change the world, it had better help us solve some of our problems. Few things are more pressing than ensuring we can feed a growing world population sustainably.”

The Syngenta AI Challenge illustrates AI’s widespread applicability to further a range of industries, including agriculture. Prompted by the need to shift agricultural production to meet the future needs of society, AI could prove to be an important tool in bringing about this change.