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OTTAWA— Robots milk cows and sweep manure in the barn and now the next big machine revolution is here. Artificial intelligence — something like a robotic mind with uncanny and amazing human-like abilities to communicate— made its biggest splash when ChatGPT debuted last November. And apparently, it knows more about farming than you do.

ChatGPT is a ‘chatbot’ but unlike the typically online chatbots tied to company websites that spit out pre-canned answers to common customer questions, this new technology responds to user questions, accurately and quickly, almost as though written by a human, but without grammatical or spelling errors. In fact, it is impossible to tell that a human did not write the answer.

Created by OpenAI, a private company in San Francisco and co-founded by Elon Musk, the system is not perfect but still seems right out of Star Trek (and already has an otherworldly market value estimated at $29 billion after amassing one million users just five days after launch).
In seconds, the artificially intelligent ChatGPT can churn out original essays, poetry and scientific papers — and agricultural advice, as it turns out — to anyone who cares to ask.

Winchester-based crop consultant Gilles Quesnel recently queried the system about the best cover crop options after harvesting winter wheat in Ontario. The reply was a crisp bulleted list advising (backed up with reasons) oats, annual ryegrass, crimson clover, winter peas and buckwheat. The robotic-mind concluded by saying, “It is also important to consult with a local agricultural extension agent or a soil expert to determine which cover crop will work best for your specific situation.”

Quesnel sees potential problems with relying on the system today but expects it to improve with time, just as happened with other game-changing online tools like Google Maps and Google Translate. “I was surprised, since it missed cereal rye but it picked up ryegrass, and it picked up that oats are the best option,” Quesnel marvelled.

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