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After The Next Big Thing in Ag Tech

Written by Brian David Johnson, Futurist

People spend a lot of time thinking about the next big thing. Usually this is some new technology that will come along and change the entire industry and world as we know it. Wall Street investors and Silicon Valley venture capitalists are obsessed with it. They believe that if they can just figure out what the next big thing will be, then they’ll be able to call it before the rest of us, and that this will prepare them for the future.

There’s one problem. The future doesn’t work like that. 

I spend a lot of time telling people not to worry about the next big thing. As a futurist, I’ve seen a lot of next big things come and go. Some had a big impact; most fizzled out with a whimper. My job is to work with people and look past the future hype to figure out the pragmatic steps folks can take to actually build more positive futures and to avoid the negative ones. The articles in this issue provide useful insights and examples for how people are realistically implementing future technologies today that could affect the future of agriculture. The future is local, and it is built by the hard work of people – not by a single new technology.

If you want to spend some time thinking about the future, I’d recommend thinking about what comes after the next big thing.

This is what I teach my students to do – think about the thing that comes after the thing. Once you’ve done that, you can turn around and look backward with greater clarity and confidence. Here are a few thought experiments. 

Thinking Farm

It’s clear that drones will have an impact on the future of agriculture. Just how much depends on what you want to get done and what your operation needs. What happens after drones have reached widespread use? 

I like to think about what happens when drones are combined with artificial intelligence. What happens when your drone can think for itself? Or, even better, what if your entire farm could think, and the drones and robots allowed your farm to take action? What decisions would you allow your farm to make for itself? What actions would you allow your farm to carry out without having you in the loop?

Big Data Bugs

Farms and agricultural operations are uncapped fire hydrants of data. Putting that data to work solving real-world problems is the effort of today. 

What if the effort of tomorrow was to take all that data and use it to bioengineer worker bugs for the farm? These big-data bugs could be specifically designed for your crops, soil, or livestock. Gene editing is a reality, but what happens when you can write your own genetic code to design an army of worker bees?

I can tell you for sure what comes after the next big thing: People. 

Farming is about people. The future of ag is about the people working in it and the millions it will feed. Technology is simply a tool and is only truly interesting when it can positively affect the lives of people. All these new advancements and technologies are poised to move agriculture forward in exciting ways. Yet, all the progress in the world is useless if we forget about the human contribution and impact.

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