Innovative ideas paired with the newest technology is an ideal match made right here in Little Rock, Arkansas. The ideas stem from Karen Watts, a COSMOS researcher and the new digital and innovation manager for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. She is using synergistic technology to improve farming.

“I love learning about emerging technologies and I get to learn the newest technologies every day,” said Watts who draws similarities between her job and hackathons. “I look to see what works, develop a proof of concept and prototype the new technology for us. It’s going to put us ahead in innovation.”

Karen Watts, digital innovation manager for the U of A System Division of Agriculture, will focus discovering and evaluating new technologies and implementing them to the benefit of the Cooperative Extension Service and the Arkansans it serves. Photo Credit: University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture – Ryan McGeeney

Watts has been successfully participating at hackathons in several states.  Her enthusiasm, problem-solving skills and out-of-the-box thinking have been crucial to her wins.  She joined the Division at the Cooperative Extension Service Information Technology unit in 2017. In her new position, she’ll be “looking at new and emerging technologies and how they can be implemented in the Division of Agriculture with existing and new applications,” she said.

The Division of Agriculture conducts research through its Agricultural Experiment Station and transfers discoveries to the public through the Cooperative Extension Service.

“No other extension office has this position. We are setting a trend,” Watts said. “I wanted to help agents and producers and make a difference in their lives.”

At a recent conference, Watts saw researchers using Artificial Intelligence (AI) in rice genome work. “Artificial intelligence isn’t the future,” she said. “It’s the present.”

Watts presented a litany of potential avenues to connect agriculture and technology, including blockchain, advanced climate software using machine learning to do predictive analysis; nano trackers and sensors; chatbots and other virtual assistants; data mining and data visualization; and the new possibilities offered by 5G mobile platforms.

She will also continue her work in application development, including e-commerce and business intelligence and “educating in the use of the new technologies and also pursuing and obtaining grants,” Watts said. “I wear many hats.”

Watts is also a COSMOS researcher.  She graduated in December 2018 with her bachelor’s degree and Graduate Certificate in Data Science.  After graduating with her master’s degree in Information Science in December 2019, Karen plans to continue being a COSMOS team member while earning her Ph.D. in computer and information science with a speciality in developing strategies to fight disinformation campaigns online using blockchain technology.