Dr. Bronson and Dr. Millar Receive SSHRC Insight Grant to Explore Big Data, AI and Digital Agriculture Policy

Posted on Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Centre for Law, Technology and Society is delighted to announce that Dr. Kelly Bronson and Dr. Jason Millar have been awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant for groundbreaking research on big data, artificial intelligence in agriculture, and the policy needs to drive inclusion and sustainability.

Dr. Bronson’s research on big data and artificial intelligence in agriculture suggests that these technologies are reproducing power in the hands of large corporate farms and large agribusinesses and disadvantaging Canada’s small and diverse farmers. The social and ethical issues raised by digital agriculture are fundamental to their design: currently available big datasets that are used to help farmers decide when to seed, spray and harvest are only relevant to large-scale and industrial operations as the platforms collect data on only a handful of commodity crops like corn and soy. This is a democratic issue as these innovations have been supported by public sector funding

Ranked 3rd by the jury of the SSHRC Insight Grant program, the project “Diversity by design: Using qualitative social science to drive inclusion and sustainability in agricultural innovation” is led by Dr. Kelly Bronson, Canada Research Chair in Science and Society and an Assistant Professor, School of Sociological and Anthropology Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences.

Alongside Dr. Jason Millar, Canada Research Chair in Ethical Engineering of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Engineering, and Dr. Irena Knezevic (Carleton University), the team will use participatory design workshops engaging smaller and diversified farm operators in exposing social and ethical issues related current agricultural innovations, and bringing farmer feedback directly to federal policy makers. The workshops will ask: What key issues and concerns do Canada’s small and diverse farmers have with respect to using big data and artificial intelligence for farm management? Are there particular data or digital technology needs held by these farmers, especially relating community wellbeing, livelihoods, and climate mitigation and adaptation?

This grant continues to support Dr. Bronson’s global leadership on those issues. She is notably co-leading the Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue’s Project on AI for Healthy Humans and Environment at the University of Ottawa AI + Society Initiative, alongside Dr. Flood and Dr. Martin-Bariteau.

Dr. Bronson is front and centre of a small but growing international group of scholars beginning to look at agribusinesses like Bayer/Monsanto the same way critical data scholars have looked at Facebook. This research project has bearing on Canada’s climate commitments and our leadership on inclusive innovation as well as the everyday lives of thousands of Canadians. Even though small and diverse farms are relatively less significant for the agri-food sector (measured by contribution to GDP), they are still the most numerous farm type and their future is thus entwined with the future of rural communities.


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