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Alibaba is using artificial intelligence to help raise pigs

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has decided to use AI technology to help China boost its pig-husbandry industry, which has long been plagued with poor efficiency and high labor costs.

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An AI program could help identify and predict diseases and boost fertility by analyzing swine behavior, according to an online announcement last week by Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba’s cloud computing arm.

Teaming up with livestock farming companies Sichuan Tequ Group and Dekon Group, the e-commerce giant has invested millions of yuan to build an AI system that can keep a record of every single hog, including their breed, age in days, diet, weight and movement.

The system is able to help each sow give birth to three more piglets per year and reduce the mortality rate by around 3 percent, according to an early-stage experiment.

“If you have 10 million pigs to raise, you can barely count how many piglets were born on a daily basis when the due date comes,” said Zhang Haifeng, chief information officer of Tequ Group.

Alibaba’s AI technologies can automatically record the number of births and tell if a sow can give a natural birth or not. For example, AI can locate and rescue a troubled piglet by analyzing its screams to see if it is being pressed too tight by its mother, according to Zhang.

“On one hand, we hope to bring down husbandry costs and achieve agricultural reform,” said Zhang Sheng, big data expert and head of the program with Alibaba Cloud. “On the other hand, we’d like to translate AI technology into safe, tasty pork.”

The AI program featuring pig farming is just one part of Alibaba’s “ET Brain Plan,” which has already been applied in fields such as civil aviation, transportation, environment and medical service.

“Alibaba is expanding its business in agriculture. Apart from the pig farming industry, we hope AI can help make Chinese crop farming more efficient and less labor-intensive,” Zhang Sheng said.

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