Amazon tech guru: Eating less beef, more fish good for the planet, and AI helps us get there

Amazon’s top technology officer told the United Nations this week that people will need to eat more fish and less beef if they want to protect the environment, and said artificial intelligence is a tool that is already helping to make that happen.

Dr. Werner Vogels, chief technology officer and vice president of Amazon, told the ‘AI for Good’ global summit in Geneva this week that AI is helping rice farmers and other food producers around the world be much more efficient. However, he said AI will also play an important role in making sure food comes at a lower cost to the environment.

In his remarks to the conference on July 6, Vogels showed a graphic that said it takes seven times more feed to produce a given amount of protein from a cattle farm compared to a fish farm. He said that means people need to move away from eating beef.

‘We need to shift the protein,’ Vogels said. ‘And we know… how damaging cattle farming is, not just because of the amount of food that it needs, but the impact on the environment that it has.’

‘If we want to reduce that impact, we will need to move to consuming fish as our main source of protein,’ he said.

To shift that dramatically to fish, more efficient fish farms are needed. Today, he said, fish farms are plagued by disease that can spread too quickly to every fish in the same pen.

However, he said AI is already helping to solve that problem. Vogels said companies like Aquabyte are using AI and machine learning to gather data on fish in order to quickly detect the presence of disease and other problems that hurt yield.

‘Their mission is to improve fish farming techniques,’ he said. ‘They build this very unique camera… to identify the individual fish, to identify their growth, to identify potential diseases.’

He said AI systems have already analyzed more than 1 billion fish, which is allowing these systems to create a vast data library on fish that will make it more efficient to monitor farmed fish as they grow.

Vogels added that farmed fish is a necessary step because fishing from the ocean has also proved to be bad for the environment.

‘This is an extremely damaging industry,’ he said at the U.N. meeting. ‘Greenpeace reports that fishing nets account for about 86% of the large plastic waste, which is caught in the ‘great Pacific garbage patch,’ which is sitting in the Pacific Ocean which is three times the size of France.’

‘It’s extremely damaging – current fishing approaches – to the environment,’ he said. ‘So fish farming is a much better-controlled environment to grow fish.’

The U.N. conference ran from July 6-7 and featured top U.N. officials and industry leaders. On July 6, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the audience that while AI has the potential for ‘enormous good,’ even though it also poses possible dangers, ‘from the development and use of autonomous lethal weapons, to turbo-charging mis- and dis-information that has undermined democracy.’

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