AI Challenge Winner Is Announced

Participants used artificial intelligence tools to create models that predict seed variety performance.
The 2017 winner of the AI Challenge, Tzvi Aviv (second from left), celebrates with James Hodson (far left) and Marko Grobelnik (far right), both with the AI for Good Foundation, and Dan Dyer (third from left) of Syngenta.

Researchers at Syngenta believe technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) can play a significant role in finding ways to improve global food security. That’s why the company has partnered with the AI for Good Foundation to create a data-science competition that recognizes innovative thinkers who use data analysis to improve plant breeding.

The winner of the 2017 Syngenta AI Challenge was recently named during the SIGKDD Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Tzvi Aviv, Ph.D., of Aviv Innovation, and his partner, Vanessa Lundsgaard-Nielsen, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto, won with their entry “Ensemble of Cubist Models for Soy Yield Prediction Using Soil Features and Remote Sensing Variables.”

“I am very interested in plant science and genetics, but I am also interested in doing something that is really meaningful for me as a person,” says Aviv. “The contest was a fantastic opportunity for me to hone my skills around data analysis.”

Participants were asked to use their programming skills to design a model using real-world datasets to help scientists analyze soybean seed data more efficiently and effectively. Improving the plant breeding process and, in turn, the world’s ability to grow more crops with fewer resources was the ultimate goal.

“We hope that competitions like this one will inspire emerging data scientists and researchers to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.”

James Hodson
“The winning team’s entry demonstrated how effectively data can help solve the complex challenge of breeding high-yielding, geographically adapted seeds,” says Dan Dyer, head of seeds development at Syngenta and lead for the AI Challenge committee. “All finalists displayed creative and analytical approaches that have the potential to benefit the agriculture industry.”

The runners-up included teams representing Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri; Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and IN2 Group, a software company based in Croatia. Entries were evaluated based on scientific rigor, effectiveness in identifying the best varieties, and the finalists’ ability to clearly articulate their solution and its methodology.

The challenge aligns with the Syngenta commitment to make crops more efficient—one of the tenets of The Good Growth Plan, a global initiative to improve the sustainability of agriculture.

“The future availability of food is a global concern, and one that must be dealt with swiftly and sustainably,” says James Hodson, co-founder and CEO of the AI for Good Foundation. “We hope that competitions like this one will inspire emerging data scientists and researchers to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.”