An expert system is normally composed of a knowledge base (information, heuristics, etc.), inference engine (analyzes the knowledge base), and the end user interface (accepting inputs, generating outputs). The path that leads to the development of expert systems is different from that of conventional programming techniques. The concepts for expert system development come from the subject domain of artificial intelligence (AI), and require a departure from conventional computing practices and programming techniques. A conventional program consists of an algorithmic process to reach a specific result. An AI program is made up of a knowledge base and a procedure to infer an answer. Expert systems are capable of delivering quantitative information, much of which has been developed through basic and applied research (e.g. economic thresholds, crop development models, pest population models) as well as heuristics to interpret qualitatively derived values, or for use in lieu of quantitative information. Another feature is that these systems can address imprecise and incomplete data through the assignment of confidence values to inputs and conclusions.
The development of an electronic decision support system requires the combined efforts of specialists from many fields of agriculture, and must be developed with the cooperation of the growers who use them. Specialists tend to be trained in rather narrow domains and are best at solving problems within that domain. However, there is a growing realization that the complex problems faced by growers go beyond the abilities of individual specialists. Interdisciplinary teams of specialists must work in unison to formulate solutions to agricultural problems. Agriculture must be viewed as a system of interacting parts where the perturbation of one part affects many others.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
In agriculture, expert systems are capable of integrating the perspectives of individual disciplines (e.g. plant pathology, entomology, horticulture, agricultural meteorology) into a framework that best addresses the type of ad hoc decision-making required of modern farmers. Expert systems can be one of the most useful tools for accomplishing the task of providing growers with the day-to-day, integrated decision support needed to grow their crops.