In 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen discovered the x-ray, and Karl Benz designed and built the first truck in history using the internal combustion engine. Now, just over 100 years later, radiologists and truck drivers alike are at risk of extinction due to technological advances.

Who might be next?

One of the oldest jobs in human history. The noble farmer.

Farming started over ten thousand years ago, spawning what’s known as the Neolithic Revolution. We haven’t looked back ever since.

But times have changed.

In 1790, an estimated 90% of the labor force in the United States were farmers.

Now? It’s below 3%. But the same technologies that interpret medical images and produce self-driving cars are being unleashed on farms.

Automating Indoor Farming

Spread is a Japanese company that has created the world’s first automated indoor farm in 2016. With the exception of one task (initial planting of the seeds), every subsequent task – from transplanting seedlings to trimming to harvesting – is automated by robots.

This technology is expected to more than double the output of their lettuce production. Incidentally, they expect to cut their labor costs in half, too.

Completely Human-Free Farming

And in 2017, a farm in Shropshire, UK demonstrated the world’s first, fully automated harvest. From planting seeds to measuring soil, to the final harvest, a human was nowhere to be seen.

Driverless tractors, soil sensors, and drones coupled with image-recognition cameras managed the field and harvested the crops.

Although this project is experimental, and the yield was not ideal, it demonstrates quite dramatically where things are headed.

Long Live the Small Horticulturist

What about your own garden?

There’s even an option now for that, too. FarmBot is an open-source project creating automated home-gardening systems. The system combines soil sensors and robotic mechanisms that plant seeds, water, and even de-weed your garden for you.

But what if you enjoy getting your hands in the dirt and cultivating crops?

Undoubtedly, gardening will persist for the foreseeable future. I personally find joy in the process. It lowers my stress, and nothing is quite as rewarding as eating food you grew yourself.

As with the introduction of any disruptive set of technologies throughout history, jobs may be uprooted and needs to be addressed.

But the potential to continuously decrease operating costs and improve efficiency will undoubtedly be needed to feed a growing planet with the diversity of nutritious foods need to maintain good health.

And these technologies may concurrently help the planet. Spread, for example, has used its technology to decrease energy costs by a third and now recycles around 98% of the water needed to grow its crops.

Lab to Table

Just as MedTech is short for medical technology and FinTech is short for financial technology, AgTech is the term bestowed to agricultural technology. And it’s moving fast.

Just as farmers are being supplanted by self-driving tractors, drones, AI, sensors, and robotics, the cows and chickens are, too.

Testing the limits of what people will eat, technologies are combining the fields of medical tissue engineering with agriculture to produce clean meat. This meat, grown for consumption, is designed to grow in a petri dish, satisfying the world’s growing desire for meat while obviating the need for animal slaughter and bypassing the greenhouse gas production and resource diversion of the livestock industry.

And similar technologies being applied to fish, are aiming to similarly help combat the drastically diminishing ocean stocks driven by our taste for seafood.

These technologies are also promising the hope of more nutritious products. Red meat is a complete protein source, and offers other important nutrients. But along with the good, comes other components that, according to the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, may be harmful to your health.

What happens when the world has access to the increasingly inexpensive and resource efficient food production? Will increased automation and resource efficiency decrease global malnutrition, increase access to nutrition, and improve environmental health?

What do you think?

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