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Communication Technologies

Remember a time before the Internet?  Before smartphones, smart buildings, smart cars, and smart TVs? To say that this time was completely different is both a silly overstatement and a gross understatement. 

The world is not that different from the pre-Internet days. You still care about crops and livestock growing, harvest coming, babies being born. At the same time, the globe has been utterly transformed by three decades of communications technology advancement.  

There are very few people who have gone untouched by these changes. The way you work, shop, play, and teach your kids has all been affected.

It affects how you farm, too. You can argue the relative merits of more speed, connectivity, and greater efficiency, but the bottom line is that the impact on farming has been positive.

So what’s next? In the next 10 years, you’ll see more connectivity to more communication devices, allowing you to do more things. As you approach the year 2020, the size of the microprocessor that powers all of the communications technologies will get so small that it will basically disappear – around 5 nanometers. That’s equivalent to about five atoms across.

It ultimately means you will be able to turn anything into a computer or a communication device that will connect with you and with other devices. 

You will connect to more than just other farmers and technology in the next 10 years. What if you could connect with your crops and your livestock?    

Gossiping corn

“The stalks in the northeast field aren’t looking too good these last few weeks.”

“I’m not the biggest fan of these new bugs. They’re ruining the neighborhood.”

What if your crops could gossip about each other? It would give you a day-by-day, moment-to-moment insight into the well being of your farm. Who better to keep an eye on the plants than the other plants around them? They could sound the early-warning alarm if panic begins to ensue.

This may sound crazy, but that’s what I see in the next 10 years of communication technologies breakthroughs. Your farm will gossip about itself to you. It will chatter away the details of what’s happening in the soil and water, about bugs and disease.

When the size of computational power goes nearly invisible, that means you can take technologies where they have never been before. There is a new classification of devices called ingestibles. They’re so small that they can be used inside the human body to perform intestinal track diagnostics. They can do real-time health readings and report back to your smartphone or to your doctor. Created from materials like silk or magnesium, when you are done with them, they simply pass out of the system. Some are even digested.  

“The current pills report basic properties like movement, sleep patterns, and core body temperature,” explains Chris Arkenberg, a technology analyst, futurist, and researcher at Deloitte Center for the Edge, the large professional services network. “The pill transmits information to a skin patch, which relays it to a smartphone.

“Some of the pills don’t even require batteries. They use electrochemicals of stomach acids to derive power. It’s like those potato clocks we built when we were kids.”

Now imagine what you could do with these devices within your livestock. Monitoring the health of large herds can be daunting when they are spread out. Ingestible devices could gather real-time data on the collective health of the herd, alerting you to problems. They might even be able to start fixing that problem.   

“One of the areas I find most interesting for livestock is immunity – using ingestibles to target bacterial and viral infections,” Arkenberg says. “Such pills could allow for programmatic control of epigenetics, turning select proteins on and off as needed, modifying milk production. They could allow for more direct management of methane production in the intestinal tract. 

“It may become possible to drive a robotic pill to a specific location to destroy a tumor. There may be a command-and-control model where a master pill directs a swarm of much smaller bots capable of passing into the bloodstream,” he says.

No going back

There is now a generation of young minds who have never known a time when there wasn’t an Internet. They’ve always been able to walk up to a screen – any screen – and ask for something. Information, entertainment, even connections to people are available in under one second from anywhere on the globe. It’s astounding. 

There is no going back. You will never un-Internet your life. Every generation that follows will assume this access to communications technology is simply normal, or maybe even boring.

Imagine what these young minds will come up with. They are completely unburdened by the past. Imagine the businesses they will build and how their ideas will transform farms again and surprise you with their bravery and brilliance. It’s exciting to watch it unfold.

Your Farm in the Future

This is a year-long special project of Successful Farming magazine that attempts to envision the future of agriculture and help producers see their role in shaping it today. Sponsored by: Asgrow & Dekalb

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