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Thursday, November 25 • 9:30am - 10:50am
Room C5 - Parallel Session Three: Agrifood – Robots

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Chair: Karly Burch

9:30am - 9:50am
PRACTICING ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY IN THE DESIGN AND ADOPTION AI AND ROBOTIC TECHNOLOGIES
Angella Ndaka

Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics research has gained global momentum, with many powerful economic and state actors promoting ‘smart technology’ as ‘the solution’ to major global problems like climate change, food security, poverty, and conflict. However, without critical sociological interventions, these technologies often (re)produce the very social and environmental problems they are being designed to solve. An emerging body of research highlights the carbon-intensive nature of AI and robotic design processes, their dependency on non-renewable mineral resources, and waste produced in their design, use and disposal phases. While most AI and robotic technologies are referred to as ‘green’, and may help in addressing issues related to environmental sustainability, there are gaps in how this might be realised in practice. Drawing on Jasanoff’s conceptualisations of sociotechnical imaginaries and Haraway’s studies on situated knowledge, this study will explore how environmental sustainability is imagined and practiced by a variety of actors who regulate, design, or use agricultural technologies. Situated within the Aotearoa New Zealand-based MaaraTech Project, the study will weave together insights shared by technology regulators, designers, and users to provide recommendations on how to transform sustainability imaginaries about new agricultural technologies into sustainability practices which have positive environmental and social outcomes.


9:50am - 10:10am
PACIFIC MIGRANT LABOUR MEETS ARTIFICIALLY INTELLIGENT AGTECH: COLLABORATIVELY SHAPING EQUITABLE TRANSITIONS TOWARD MORE AUTOMATED VINEYARDS AND ORCHARDS IN AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND
Sandhiya Gounder and Karly Burch

Labour is often described as a “pinch point” for Aotearoa New Zealand’s viticulture and horticulture industries, with migrant labour from Pacific countries and new agricultural technologies (AgTech) expected to fulfil the industries’ intensive seasonal labour needs. Aotearoa’s Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) scheme was put in place in 2007 to support vineyard and orchard owners to secure seasonal migrant workers from the Pacific. The scheme has also provided valuable opportunities for Pacific people to profit economically, allowing them to earn a high income abroad without having to permanently migrate to another country. Artificially intelligent (AI) agricultural technologies (AgTech) are also being developed to alleviate the dependence on human labour, or to support human workers in completing seasonal tasks on vineyards on orchards. While new AgTech offers visions of vineyards and orchards with little dependency on human labour, they are still in their infancy stage, and will require many years before they will provide dependable labour support on vineyards and orchards. In this transforming labour landscape where human labour will still be necessary for the foreseeable future, we centre the humans who are taking on the bulk of seasonal tasks on Aotearoa’s vineyards and orchards: Pacific RSE workers. Our inquiry is based on a literature review conducted within the MaaraTech Project—a transdisciplinary collaborative design (co-design) project developing robotic and human-assist technologies with AI capabilities for Aotearoa’s vineyards and orchards. Our paper will highlight some of the reasons why Pacific people are drawn to the RSE scheme, and how understanding the needs of RSE workers might contribute to shaping an equitable transition toward more automated vineyards and orchards in Aotearoa.


10:10am - 10:30am 

ROBOT ONTOLOGIES: KNOWING PLANTS, VINEYARDS AND ORCHARDS THROUGH SENSORS AND CODE
Karly Burch and Katharine Legun


Robotics with artificial intelligence capacities are currently being developed for complex tasks in agriculture, although many are at an experimental stage and have yet to reach commercial viability. At this early development stage, the design of technologies can be seen at their most elemental stage, where they set the infrastructure for potential sophisticated iterations of AgTech in the future. Drawing from interviews with engineers and computer scientists on a large co-design project, this paper will explore the translation of complex agricultural tasks into AI robotics. We pay particular attention to the materialities of these technologies and the capacities they make possible—e.g., the abilities to construct sensation, to move, to make decisions, to learn. By attending to the components that go into developing robotics, and how engineers describe their abilities and networked interactions, we aim to better explicate how a robot can see, think, and act. While these robotics are often modeled from humans, they are fundamentally distinct. Better explicating robot ontologies can help us to clarify the social and environmental dynamics of their development, while also allowing us to tease apart the differences between the imaginaries and realities they produce.



Thursday November 25, 2021 9:30am - 10:50am NZDT
C5