The 4th Industrial Revolution: Digital Transformation, the case of Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things in Agriculture

The 4th Industrial Revolution: Digital Transformation, the case of Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things in Agriculture

The fourth industrial revolution in popular circles is seen as the current  and developing environment in which disruptive technologies are emerging such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) which are fundamentally changing the way we live and work.

The third industrial revolution, also popularly referred to as the digital revolution, involved the development of computers and IT (information technology) since the middle of the 20th century. The fourth industrial revolution is growing out of the third but is considered a new era rather than a continuation because of the sheer explosiveness of its development and the disruptiveness of its technologies. According to Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum and author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the new age is differentiated by the speed of technological breakthroughs, the pervasiveness of scope and the tremendous impact of new systems. When we compare the pace of innovation in Africa the more developed world, one can't help but feel that Africa is still behind. However, ours is a cloud with a silver lining because we are coming into the 4th Industrial revolution without any legacy technology systems so we can skip right into the good stuff whereas other countries need to incur huge costs to replace whatever legacy systems they already have. Just to give some much needed context; the first Industrial revolution spans from the mid 18th century to the beginning of the 18th century, the second industrial revolution took place around the end of the 19th century while the third begun in the middle of the 20th century. I think we can all agree that Africa missed most of the first three industrial revolutions because of various reasons including colonialism. The fourth industrial revolution seems like our best bet to get on the global stage and compete with the rest of the world on equal footing.

In my opinion the technologies that will have the most impact in the 4th Industrial revolution include Artificial Intelligence, Virtual and augmented reality, Internet of Things, Advanced Robotics, Genomics and Blockchain. In this article I specifically talk about Artificial Intelligence in partnership with Internet of Things and how those two concepts are  already being used in agricultural use cases and we all know how agriculture is close to Africa’s heart and future.

Artificial Intelligence as defined by Wikipedia," is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals. In computer science AI research is defined as the study of ‘intelligent agents’: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals.[1] Colloquially, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ is applied when a machine mimics ‘cognitive’ functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as ‘learning’ and ‘problem solving’ "

Artificial Intelligence in Theory is still a lofty dream but we have a sub-branch of it called Machine learning that is showing tremendous progress. Machine learning simply put is computer science that’s focused on enabling computers to recognize patterns in data—without humans telling the computer how to recognize the patterns.

Internet of things on the other hand is defined by wikipedia as, “Internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data.”

A company called Connecterra, is Amsterdam is pioneering machine learning application coupled with Internet of things to help raise cows. The concept is simple(in theory of course), they put sensors around a cow’s neck and these sensors send data to the cloud for analysis by machine learning models. Did you know for instance that the major difference between cows that produce 30 liters of milk a day and those that produce 10 liters was the animal’s health. “We can detect activities from eating, drinking, resting, fertility, temperature and more. It’s not just tracking this information, though. We use Ida to predict problems early, detecting cases like lameness or digestive disorders, and provide recommendations to farmers on how to keep their cows healthy and improve the efficiency of their farms,” as they noted when featured on a Google blog recently. They are already seeing 30 percent increase on their customers dairy output. I don’t know about you but I think Africa could definitely do with 30% increase in dairy output.

The we also have SkySquirrel Technologies Inc. which has combined the drone technology with computer vision analysis using machine learning models. Sky squirrel is in the crop analysis business for wine vineyards. So basically they have these drones that fly over a farm and shoot HD video for analysis using machine learning models. SkySquirrel uses algorithms to integrate and analyze the captured images and data to provide a detailed report on the health of the vineyard, specifically the condition of grapevine leaves. Since grapevine leaves are often telltales for grapevine diseases (such as molds and bacteria), reading the “health” of the leaves is often a good proxy for understanding the health of the plants and their fruit as a whole.

AI-driven technologies is emerging and breakneck pace help improve efficiencies and to address challenges facing the industry including but not limited to, crop yield, soil health and herbicide-resistance. Evidence of wide adoption is already a norm  in the dairy farming where hundreds of thousands of milking robots are already operating. Crop and soil monitoring technologies will also be important applications going forward as climate change continues to be researched and evaluated. One research study from reported that climate change evaluated from 1980 to 2008 resulted in a 3.8 percent global reduction of maize and a 5.5 percent reduction of wheat.

The sheer amount and variety of data that can potentially be captured by technologies such as drones, and satellites on an ongoing basis will give agricultural business a new ability to predict changes in near real time and identify opportunities as well as evaluate risks. It will be important that farmers are equipped with training that is up-to-date to ensure the technologies are used and continue to improve. This will help to prove the value of these tools over the long haul.

Additionally, extensive testing and validation of emerging AI applications in this sector will be critical as agriculture is impacted by environmental factors that cannot be controlled unlike other industries where risk is easier to model and predict. The 4th Industrial revolution for me will hit Agriculture in a big way and keep in mind that i Only used Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things to illustrate it. All in all, the future is bright; let’s stop talking about it and let’s get to doing it.

If you want to hear more about  the impact of technology on marketing and what you need to do to become a modern marker, come  to our industry talk on Thursday 5th July 2018  at 5.30pm at ISA.


Climate Trends and Global Crop Production Since 1980 by


Clinton Obura - ISA Africa

"Born and bred in Kenya for most of my life. Studied Bsc. Computer Science at Kabarak University and spent a good part of that time as a real geek. Joined Google Sub-Sahara Team in Kenya in 2015 to help activate the biggest companies in Africa and help them succeed with digital. I later moved to Google Europe to work on the UK and Ireland markets as a technical solutions consultant help some of the biggest advertisers with their digital campaigns and helping them succeed with Google. My most recent adventure is with the Google Cloud team which I joined earlier this year and still working with the Uk and Ireland markets to help the biggest Fortune 1000 companies succeed with Google in a world where technological trends like AI and Big Data and threatening to disrupt incumbents. In my free time you will find me reading a good book, in the gym or in the outdoors"

Comments ( 2 )


    Great Read.

    • Thanks Antony. Stay tuned to ISA Africa for more upcoming, mind-opening reads.

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