Mathematical Modeling in Ruminant Nutrition: Approaches and Paradigms, Extant Models, and Thoughts for Upcoming Predictive Analytics
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This paper outlines typical terminology for modeling and highlights key historical and forthcoming aspects of mathematical modeling. Mathematical models (MM) are mental conceptualizations, enclosed in a virtual domain, whose purpose is to translate real-life situations into mathematical formulations to describe existing patterns or forecast future behaviors in real-life situations. The appropriateness of the virtual representation of real-life situations through MM depends on the modeler's ability to synthesize essential concepts and associate their interrelationships with measured data. The development of MM paralleled the evolution of digital computing. The scientific community has only slightly accepted and used MM, in part because scientists are trained in experimental research and not systems thinking. The scientific advancements in ruminant production have been tangible but incipient because we are still learning how to connect experimental research data and concepts through MM, a process that is still obscure to many scientists. Our inability to ask the right questions and to define the boundaries of our problem when developing models might have limited the breadth and depth of MM in agriculture. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been developed in tandem with the need to analyze big data using high-performance computing. However, the emergence of AI, a computational technology that is data-intensive and requires less systems thinking of how things are interrelated, may further reduce the interest in mechanistic, conceptual MM. Artificial intelligence might provide, however, a paradigm shift in MM, including nutrition modeling, by creating novel opportunities to understand the underlying mechanisms when integrating large amounts of quantifiable data. Associating AI with mechanistic models may eventually lead to the development of hybrid mechanistic machine-learning modeling. Modelers must learn how to integrate powerful data-driven tools and knowledge-driven approaches into functional models that are sustainable and resilient. The successful future of MM might rely on the development of redesigned models that can integrate existing technological advancements in data analytics to take advantage of accumulated scientific knowledge. However, the next evolution may require the creation of novel technologies for data gathering and analyses and the rethinking of innovative MM concepts rather than spending resources in collecting futile data or amending old technologies.
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