The most extraordinary thing that’s happened in my adult intellectual lifespan is a demographic transition. The fact that human population fertility will reduce itself naturally in a non-coercive way if we get things right.
All locusts are grasshoppers, but not all grasshoppers are locusts. Locusts are grasshoppers that when exposed to specific environmental cues will form mass migrations and become a continental-level challenge. The immediate impacts of locusts on agriculture are obvious. For example, the desert locust plague in Western and Northern Africa that occurred between 2003 to 2005 cost an estimated 2.5 billion US dollars in crop losses.
The United States plants more than 170 million acres of corn and soybeans a year, more than any country in the world. And the primary mechanism in the US that we use to subsidize agriculture is actually called the Federal Crop Insurance Program. So, the crop insurance program in the US is also the largest such program globally, with over $100 billion in liabilities annually. So it’s a very big program.
The interesting thing is not just figuring out what one plant needs, but doing it on the scale of a million plants. This is where imaging can help. Capturing the detail, but from a distance. Some farmers already used drones or other aircraft to do just that. But these are not tools available to all. I want to ask what if precision agriculture could be a service accessible to anyone on the planet?
My thinking is how do we design systems that provide for every aspect of our humanity? How do we design a city that cares for all of our needs? You know it’s not just thinking about shelter, but it’s thinking about our food and our air and so, obviously the types of industry we have are very different, because we have to make sure that our air and our water is clean. And that our food is readily available, and that we have spaces for contemplation and reflection. And that we have places for communing with each other.
Although we haven’t reached peak surveillance, we’ve reached peak indifference to surveillance. There will never be another day in which fewer people give a shit about this because there’ll never be a day in which fewer people’s lives have been ruined by this.
I’m going to be talking about how the arts engage ethically and politically with the technization of the food chain, the chain or flow of sustenance from field to dinner plate. This is an inter-disciplinary talk but don’t worry, I won’t be claiming quite that poems and paintings are computational machines for working out social policy, because that would be crazy. But if I’m not willfully misunderstanding Joscha’s excellent talk on the computational universe, it seems that a likely candidate for the substrate of consciousness is the numinal, the realm of ideas, and that’s precisely where art and literature lives. So it’s the ideal place for deep processing of ethical issues, the big issues like food and tech.