Will increasing technology empower more and more humans to solve global problems on a local scale? Big governments are slow and they can’t change as quickly as the communities they serve. I think that our collective groups of people with a common interest will take more and more care of our basic needs, and our governments are going to be left with less and less to do. Of course, we will always need some form of organisation; we will always probably need some centralised organisations that control some elements of our society – things like law enforcement, justice and certain elements of healthcare like the care of the vulnerable people in our communities. We are always going to need people to organise things and take care of people.
Things are already heading in this direction in many countries. For example, in the UK, government policy has been towards ‘care in the community’ for some time. In the Netherlands, it’s even become a planning policy requirement to build a granny flat for housing elderly parents when you build a new house. Our policymakers know that the government won’t be able to look after all our elderly; we are living in a demographic time bomb. Thankfully, technology can and will help.
We have all seen examples of institutions that have treated people in less-than-humane ways. Technology is going to enable us to move towards a hyper-local society once again. It will be practical to be hyper-local when we can all have what we need without having to travel and when we can generate our own energy at home. The process of Humanification can take place when the cycle of big government starts to dissolve and is replaced with smaller units of people who live and thrive with the facilities that are on our own doorstep. It’s often referred to by some political commentators as creeping privatisation, but actually, it’s simply a natural progression. For example, in many countries healthcare has already been partially consumerised because it’s just too big for any one organisation to handle. Governments will need to transfer responsibility to families, private companies, and local communities in order to cope with increasing demand. We will go from huge units to smaller ones.
I believe it’s highly likely that we are going to grow more and more food ourselves at our local community. The developments going on in both biotech and energy mean that the increased reprogramming of the DNA of plants is going to allow us to grow things in conditions that could not be reproduced on a large scale. Currently, there is still a great deal of fear around DNA plant programming, but I think in the future we will know more and more about what makes a good vegetable and what it will take to grow one that contains enough healthy nutrients. I think we are still in the early phases of this research; it’s definitely immature technology at the moment.
Ikea: Home farming products
There is still a considerable amount of R&D required before we see the new fruits of this wave in our own fridges. Agritech moving away from the fields of farmers to our homes and gardens is an important thing to watch out for. I believe that eventually, we will be able to grow our entire meal at home and that we will be growing more in urban environments and growing at an industrial scale away from traditional agricultural environments too. There are already many examples of pioneering vertical and robotic farms that are starting to go mainstream. These new-style ‘farms’ involve a tiny amount of soil and water, and they are able to create a huge amount of food. The early days of hydroponic farming did change the way we grew food as far back as the 1970s, but then the technology languished for a while. There has been a resurgence of interest in how to move things further and taking a fresh look at farming has started to gain traction again.
Robot farm: Spread
Up until now, if you wanted to farm products such as vegetables, you have to be skilled as a farmer. But robotic farms have started to change that concept completely. A Japanese company, Spread, is moving to full robotic production and will be producing 50,000 lettuces per day without any human intervention. The only human hand involved is the one that plants the seeds. After that, the entire production process, including re-planting young seedlings to watering, trimming, and harvesting crops, will be done by the robots. With LED lighting, energy costs have been slashed, and 98% of the water used is recycled. It’s transforming production and minimising land use. In the future I believe you will be able to grow any kind of vegetable you fancy yourself. I can visualise being able to download a specific software program to grow a specific type of vegetable. In my view, it won’t be long before everybody will be able to grow vegetables without any knowledge about farming. That’s going to be a big shift, and it has incredible potential. Technological developments like this are going to allow us to reimagine some clever ways of using some of the spaces we already have, including things like the rooftops of our existing buildings.
Foop: Home farming robot
I foresee a time in the near future when you will be able to buy a machine for your house that grows your vegetables at a rapid pace. It will probably look like your fridge, but will instead create the perfect microclimate and conditions needed to provide you with all the healthy organic food you need to feed your family. Imagine that.