Big Ideas | Free food | The Impact Billionaires
TLDR; Closed-loop, artificially intelligent farms that run on solar with advanced robotics could provide climate adaptive, high yield, sustainable growth practices with a short supply chain resulting in free food.
Worldwide, humans waste one of every three food calories produced. These wasted calories are enough to feed three billion people—10 times the population of the United States, more than twice that of China, and more than three times the total number of malnourished globally, according to the Food & Agriculture organization of the United Nations.
Food is lost or wasted for a variety of reasons: bad weather, processing problems, overproduction and unstable markets cause food loss long before it arrives in a grocery store, while overbuying, poor planning and confusion over labels and safety contribute to food waste at stores and in homes.
A paradigm shift for free food
However, this is not going to be an article berating the fact that we, humans, are a virus for this planet, especially the entitled west that is operating in a system that is by design wasteful. No. I would like to present a paradigm shift.
We only speak of waste because there is a finite resource being depleted and mismanaged. When’s the last time we started a war over breathable air? What if food could truly abundantly be available, just like air?
What if food could truly abundantly be available, just like air?
Let’s break down what that would mean: “Abundantly available”. This means that we could get more food than we would need delivered at the exact time that we need it – for free. So in my view, that breaks the problem down in two challenges: sustainable, healthy, very high yield growth practices and a short food supply chain – preferably with no human intervention in order to be able to keep the system limited to a one-time investment. Seems do-able enough, no? No? Yes – Enter exponential technologies.
A high level sketch for sustainable, healthy, very high yield growth practices
Traditionally, farms have needed many workers — mostly seasonal — to produce and harvest crops. However, fewer people are entering the farming profession due to the physical labor and high turnover rate of the job. Furthermore, most agricultural efforts use highly mobile migrant labor, which presents challenges for a stable and predictable workforce.
AI in combination with advanced robotics solves critical farm labor challenges by augmenting or removing work and reducing the need for large numbers of workers. Agricultural AI bots are harvesting crops at a higher volume and faster pace than human laborers, more accurately identifying and eliminating weeds, and reducing cost and risk like for example predicting the impact climate events will have and determining effective damage mitigation strategies. On top of that, AI farmers present a permanent solution for the unpredictable and fluctuating agricultural workforce.
The current crux of smart farming is using a blended workforce of digital help alongside traditional farmers and tools. Land O'Lakes deployed a line of smart tractors that use data insights to remotely plant seeds in the most optimized way. Predictive analytics data is being remotely applied to inform not only the farm, but the machinery.
After the seeds are planted, IoT devices continue to monitor growth, weeds, soil and water retention, and other factors which in turn inform next year's crop. Instead of relying on human measurements and labor, automated food and irrigation systems ensure the crops have the proper nutrients.
If we extrapolate those current capabilities and make it so that eventually we would not need any human intervention anymore – accelerate the self-learning AI capabilities and make sure that the farms can be completely self-sufficiently supplied with solar-power, we’re getting a big step closer to getting free food for everyone.
Here’s why these technologies are called exponential technologies: All four of these technologies are seeing an exponential price-performance increase/drop (it’s how you look at it) over time.
What does an exponential price-performance increase mean? If you look at the table above, you can see that for a performance X, the price drops every Y amount of time. Or the performance X doubles for the same price every Y amount of time. For us, this means that at some point in time, there is going to be a combination of our three technologies that is performant enough for a price that will make the initial investment for an AI farm negligible.
What about delivery?
Drones are on exponential price-performance curves too! Can you imagine a continuous stream of autonomous drones busy delivering food all over the community without one human being lifting a single finger …
As soon as the price/performance mix is at a point where that initial investment is negligible and we succeed in designing a closed-loop system, meaning there is no human intervention needed for any step from the seeding to the harvest to the transport, the gates are open for practically free, abundant and sustainable food production. Of course, there are many if, ands & butts. What about the fact that current regulations would block this? What about the fact that it would derail an entire industry? Where would you implement this first? Those if, ands and butts, I invite you to flesh them out together with me along the way. But let me end this short little blog post with why I think this is worth it to explore and we could re-frame a lot of those issues by asking a different kind of question:
What kind of society do we want? Do we want a people-serve-society kind of society or do we want a society-serves-people kind of society?
The former is what we currently have – driven by our mainly single value capitalistic system. Depending on who you ask, it works. The latter would be that we start looking at society more as an operating system that serves each and everyone of us with a very basic set of “included” features. Here’s the included features that I would propose:
Let’s create a societal baseline by automating with exponential technologies all of our biological & physiological needs, starting with food.
Then we can work our way up the pyramid of Maslow in the feature set that our societal OS provides. Many posts will follow on this topic, I am sure, but I wanted to give you the bigger idea here already.
What could be the impact of this?
Let’s say the experimentation I’m doing with a FarmBot in my own back garden, together with what Alphabet, YesHealth Group, 80 acres farms and many others are doing, results in a model for such a farm. A great spot to get started implementing those free farms would be sub-Saharan Africa as this is our current culprit when it comes to tackling world poverty (read a previous article I wrote about this). If you’re already yelling – “But Tom! Agriculture is the backbone of most of the economies there still! You can’t just put all these farmers out of business.” Then I would say you’re right, but this is an observation within the people-serve-society paradigm. What if food is the included operating system feature? How many would still need to go to work “just to put food on the table?”. Nobody would need to as food is provided freely. This would profoundly transform the current concept of our economy.
As we make these basic necessities included features in the operating system of our society, everybody would have time & energy to pursue whatever they desire. Want to focus on being the best parent you can be for the next 5 years? Got the drive to get educated in whichever field you would want? Well, now you’ve got the time as you don’t have to go to work to “put food on the table” anymore. Want to start thinking about solving other problems like for example what is going to give people purpose if all of a sudden they get all this to self-actualise? Well, you would be able to as well.
If this little blogpost raised more questions than answered for you, good! It does so for me too. I am on a journey however of answering as many as I can – if this is a journey you’d like to join in you are most welcome to do so by subscribing to the podcast, joining our mighty network, network or sign up for our newsletter where you’ll get little thought-provoking articles like this & a bi-weekly podcast episode shot straight to your e-mail – or follow us on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn!
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