Caleb Harper’s TEDtalk “This computer will grow your food in the future” discusses Harper’s work in the development of new agricultural systems to explore the future of food and its growth. Harper is the Principal Investigator and Director of the Open Agriculture Initiative, designed as an open-source data system to create a collaborative food network at MIT. Harper’s talk can be found on ted.com under the ‘science’ section.
With food security an increasingly important subject in our daily lives, we must look to new innovate ways to ensure future generations have the tools to feed a rapidly growing population. Caleb Harper’s talk ‘This computer will grow your food in the future’ discusses the possibility of computers being used to do just that.
Harper’s talk focuses on the problems facing the next generation of farmers – namely, that there is not one, and how best we might resolve this issue through a digital platform, or ‘digital farm’. Though a notion that might seem quite alien to you or I, Harper is quick to point out the advantages that a digital farm could have.
Given the already small number of people actively involved in the current food system, and young populations moving away from rural areas to the cities, countries find themselves increasingly struggling to find willing farmers to take over what is arguably one of the most important aspects of any culture – cultivating food. This is where Harper comes into his own – creating a digital farm to inspire young people to take an interest in farming, and to take a more in-depth look at just how food is grown. By learning more about what can influence differences in crop, Harper aims to create a worldwide food network through which knowledge and skills can be disseminated. Though using scientific equipment to study the PH and surrounding atmosphere of your lettuces may seem a tad over the top, in reality, this may be the only way to pass down those skills that are simply not being taught to the next generation.
It also provides the potential for control over how and when we grow food produce. Harper demonstrates this rather charmingly with his ‘IP-addressable broccoli’, explaining how food can be tested for the amount of nutrition, the taste one might desire, as well as more mundane alerts regarding too much water or sunlight, all vital aspects if we are to truly understand how to get the most out of our food.
By creating a system much like a game, Harper and his team have had success in introducing farming to a young generation of Americans, allowing them to grow their own plants and manage their care to achieve optimum results, all the while learning more about what makes a plant more viable, and sharing this with others around the world. By doing so, Harper has already had success in inspiring young people to contemplate a career in farming.
So, if growing produce from the comfort of your own bed interests you, give this TEDtalk a listen and give it a go. All of Harper’s research into digital farming is open sourced and available for you to build your own food computer and contribute to what is fast becoming a global network of shared information regarding food production. The future of farming is, quite literally, in your hands – all without the need to get them dirty!