The drums of war against farmers will beat louder on social media

Farming should prepare for growing online fake news 'war' says new report

Agribusiness
RAPID CHANGE: The swift transformation of drones from toys to key farm tools underlines the rapid adoption of new technologies to both help and harm agriculure.

RAPID CHANGE: The swift transformation of drones from toys to key farm tools underlines the rapid adoption of new technologies to both help and harm agriculure.

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A new report released by Agrifutures Australia predicts some big challenges and opportunities for agriculture in the next decade.

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An online "war" will be unleashed on farmers and food companies during the next 10 years as detractors and competitors seek to damage their reputation with fake news.

That's one of the key findings from a report which looks at the seismic shifts facing agriculture in the coming decade.

The Future Forces report was sponsored by AgriFutures Australia and written by the Institute for the Future and Agthentic Advisory.

The report warns the increasing influence of social media on people around the world will be accompanied by a rise in the spread of intentionally misleading information which could trigger a decline in trust in people, brands and industries.

"The coming decade will see an acceptance of an environment of constant disinformation as a new norm and a continual back-and-forth between those who sow mistrust and disinformation via media technology and those who seek to mitigate it," the report said.

"While propaganda is certainly nothing new, we're seeing the emergence of technologies that allow bad actors (online plotters) to do their work much more rapidly and effectively but also with less control over the effects.

"Deepfakes (photos and video manipulated with artificial intelligence to create almost undetectable fake media), conversational AI like GPT-3 (a neural network that can write and converse indistinguishably from a human) and cheap botnets (systems of software applications that run automated tasks on the internet) that can manipulate online discussions will all contribute to a future where average people won't be able to verify information for themselves.

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"Many food issues are highly politicised making them prime targets for disinformation campaigns.

"Food safety and reliability are easy targets for viral disinformation because they're a universal and sensitive topic," the report said.

"This type of disinformation will also be used by industry groups, lobbyists or even companies for commercial gain.

"Viral information campaigns will become a standard tool for influencing any public decision."

The report discussed six other major forecasts for Australian agriculture during the next 10 years.

Among them is the rapidly growing challenge posed by synthetic biology as researchers and industry alike build tools for molecular manipulation.

The report said some forms of synthetic biology were already familiar such as engineering individual soil microbes or designing plants and animals to have desirable traits.

"We will see a change in the way agricultural work is done as production happens increasingly in labs or bio-factories with the aid of robotics and artificial intelligence," the report said.

"Synthetic biology technologies will allow for the design of food products untied from natural production systems and commercial competition will drive development of new foods through cellular agriculture, molecular engineering and 3D printing."

Driven by new energy systems and automation technologies, there will be a fundamental redesign of individual production systems and regions as everything from genetics to irrigation to layout of farm operations will be optimised for automation, the report said.

"New technologies such as advanced sensing, machine learning and synthetic biology will help mitigate climate change volatility."

The report said farmers of the future would have an expanded mix of income streams. Not only would they be converting grass to meat or fibre but also converting sunlight to solar power and soil to carbon sequestration services.

And measurement and tracking tools, in combination with molecular tags and the internet of things (IoT), would allow for individual food products to be tracked and traced which would increase the importance of managing trust in food systems.

Genetic therapies and gene editing tools such as CRISPR (a set of DNA sequences that allow for relatively easy gene editing) would become democratised through commercially available products and biological manipulation would be possible for new organisations and producers, the report said.

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