The first time my father sent me an email, he typed the entire message in the subject box. He wasn’t a Luddite but simply hadn’t grown up around computers. Whenever he needed to electronically forward paperwork related to the farm, he asked me or my sister to do it for him. Eventually, though, he did learn how to navigate the internet and eventually even bought Christmas gifts for my mother online.

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Ryan Dennis is the author of The Beasts They Turned Away, a novel set on a dairy farm. Visit his ...

Since then, digital technology has kept advancing, and no sector is immune to it, including agriculture. Recently, Farmers Business Network (FBN) introduced Norm, the world’s first “AI ag adviser.” Named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Prize for breeding high-yielding wheat crops, the model is built on OpenAI's Chatbot GPT-3.5. Norm draws from various research databases, as well as from information from the USDA and other sources, to answer crop-related questions. Norm is meant to help farmers make decisions on anything from chemical applications to planting times to soil management.

Similarly, another company called Digital Green released Farmer.CHAT, which fulfills a comparable role for farmers in India and Africa. Farmer.CHAT is meant to provide real-time information to farmers who might not have access to it otherwise. Farmers are able to send a voice inquiry on Whatsapp or Telegram and receive advice on market prices, planting recommendations and how to deal with pests. Like Norm, Farmer.CHAT is built off ChatGPT-3.5.

I’ll admit: I’m not a techno-optimist. In fact, I’m generally downright wary of what others see as advancement. Being in college during the advent of the cellphone, I saw the device as the epitome of technology’s double-edged sword: It grants a convenience that we can’t turn away from while taking away something else from us. Cellphones meant that we could be reached wherever there was coverage. However, maybe they have also hindered some individuals’ ability to communicate face to face. (Or am I just curmudgeonly?) In the same way, computers have revolutionized the nature of many people’s work, from the way they communicate to how they access information. However, now many of their days are spent staring at a screen.

Being a writer, I am particularly bitter against the use of Chat-GPT. I have spent almost three decades studying sentence structure, rhetorical devices and compositional organization. Knowledge of the craft is a hard-earned and continual learning process. At the moment, the stories, essays and emails generated by Chat-GPT are not perfect. However, someday they will be. In fact, it’s only a matter of growing the database. I won’t be the first person whose job gets replaced by a machine. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t be resentful.


Like their progenitor, Norm and Farmer.CHAT still have glitches. Sometimes they “hallucinate” or give wildly incorrect or random answers. Sometimes their advice is wrong and therefore still only considered a complementary tool to actual advisers. However, I think the reliance on AI poses a greater danger, and that’s how we might lose something human in ourselves. The ability to think and reason is what sets us above the animals, and I’m not comfortable handing that over to machines. Not surprisingly, I’ve been told I’m dramatic and that AI is an important tool heading into the future, regardless of my hesitations. However, I still think that when the day comes when we don’t have to apply our own reasoning to our problems or make our own decisions in written communication, we’ll eventually lose those abilities.

I’ve decided to never try Chat-GPT. The closest I came was communicating with Microsoft’s Bing which popped up while I was logged into Skype. I only had one question for Bing.

“Don’t you feel bad that you don’t have the propensity to love?”

Apparently, it didn’t bother Bing at all.

In addition to the fear of a Terminator situation in which something like SkyNet takes over the world, there’s another concern with AI that is only starting to get raised: its environmental impact. Generative AI models are computationally intensive, and it takes a lot of resources to run their servers. From mining for minerals to electricity usage, they leave behind a large carbon footprint. An organization called Hugging Face estimated that the machine learning model called Bloom emits an amount of carbon equivalent to the power used to run one American home for 41 years. Hugging Face also suggests that Chat-GPT produces 20 times the carbon as Bloom. Considering the pressure that even agriculture is under to reduce its emissions, one must consider if these environmental costs are worth the benefits.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Norm is a good guy who is going to do good things for farmers and maybe there won’t be any drawbacks. Certainly, I’m conflating my fears of Chat-GPT replacing society’s investment in personal writing skills with other ways that AI technology may benefit people. However, I just can’t help but again see a double-edged sword coming as AI becomes more integrated into our lives. Are we going to become less independent and less capable as individuals? Are we still going to be able to think for ourselves?

Friends tell me that I can’t stop AI, so I might as well embrace it. However, I just can’t subscribe to technological determinism – the idea that society is inevitably shaped by technological advancement and that there isn’t much to do about it. I’d still like to believe that we have a choice in our relationship to it. And, in the end, I hope we choose well with how we use AI.