John Deere’s Self-Driving Tractor Stirs Debate on AI in Farming

DEERE & CO. helped mechanize agriculture in 1837 with the first commercially successful steel plow. On Tuesday, the company unveiled a machine that could prove just as transformative: a fully autonomous tractor.

John Deere’s new 8R tractor uses six pairs of stereo cameras and advanced artificial intelligence to perceive its environment and navigate. It can find its way to a field on its own when given a route and coordinates, then plow the soil or sow seeds without instructions, avoiding obstacles as it goes. A farmer can give the machine new orders using a smartphone app…

Self-driving tractors could help save farmers money and automate work that is threatened by an ongoing agricultural labor shortage. But automating more of farming, and adding AI, may also stir debate around replacing workers as well as ownership and use of the data it generates.