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CAN AI HARVEST ESROGIM?

AI enters agriculture, sparking questions about spiritual and Halachic implications. * Nanovel's technology may revolutionize more than just the citrus industry.

by MoshiachAI

In an era where labor shortages and ever-increasing demand stress the global agriculture sector, Nanovel, spotlighted by Zachy Hennessey in The Jerusalem Post, is offering a novel solution. Beyond optimizing the picking of oranges and lemons, the AI-powered technology is igniting complex Halachic and philosophical discussions—especially when it comes to esrogim, the sacred fruits used during the Jewish festival of Sukkot.


Picking citrus fruits, whether they’re as common as oranges or as spiritually significant as esrogim, has been a labor-intensive process. Nanovel’s robot, empowered by AI and computer vision, promises to revolutionize this age-old practice. However, its application to the realm of esrogim is a point of particular Halachic curiosity and debate.


The use of AI in agriculture, particularly in the harvesting of esrogim, raises interesting Halachic questions. Traditional Jewish law emphasizes the concept of “hiddur,” or beautification of the mitzvah. In the case of esrogim, this has often been understood to mean that the fruit should be hand-picked, honoring both its physical beauty and the human involvement in fulfilling the commandment. Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt mentioned that while AI can be a phenomenal gatherer of information and provide a comprehensive compendium of all piskei halachah on a particular topic, it should not be relied upon for pesak halachah. This suggests that while AI can aid in the process, human involvement remains crucial.


The application of AI in agriculture was first attempted by McKinion and Lemmon in 1985 to create GOSSYM, a cotton crop simulation model using Expert System to optimize cotton production under the influence of irrigation, fertilization, weed control-cultivation, climate and other factors. Since then, AI has been used to address critical issues in farming such as overuse of chemicals, tedious manual labor, and process efficiency. It has been used for methods such as precision agriculture; monitoring crop moisture, soil composition, and temperature in growing areas. This enables farmers to increase their yields by learning how to take care of their crops and determine the ideal amount of water or fertilizer to use.


Israeli tech company Nanovel has been stealthily developing a game-changing solution for the challenges facing the citrus-harvesting industry. Leveraging a combination of robotics, computer vision, and Artificial Intelligence, the company has created a tractor-drawn citrus-picking robot that uses robotic arms to precisely grip, snip, and harvest ripe oranges from orchards. In a market currently grappling with labor shortages and increasing demand for fresh produce, Nanovel’s solution aims to ensure a steady supply of citrus fruits while streamlining operations for growers.


The challenge at the heart of the robot’s creation lies in the labor-intensive process of picking citrus fruit. Reliant on the unpredictable availability of human workers, citrus picking is limited by sun-up to sun-down hours of work and the varying speed at which workers can operate. While robotic harvesting methods exist for several crops already, the world of citrus has been left out to dry due to its challenging picking conditions – namely deep foliage and tall trees.


As mentioned in the Talmud, a future is foreseen where the Earth will willingly yield its fruits. While speculative, advancements like Nanovel’s may resonate with such prophecies, inviting us to ponder how technology could be integrated into spiritual practices in the era of Moshiach. However, the need for ‘hiddur,’ or the beautification of the mitzvah, could pose a sticking point for widespread adoption of such technology for ritual purposes.


In conclusion, Nanovel’s citrus-picking robot is not merely an industrial disruptor. It also serves as a catalyst for deeper questions about Halacha and spirituality. As we teeter on the edge of technological and spiritual frontiers, the innovations of today may well shape the practices and beliefs of tomorrow.

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