Crystal ball shows changes can be good

Sometimes I get alarmed about our future when I read about environmental problems and forecasts for escalating food demand.

But then I read a book like Abundance: The future is better than you think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler and I can’t wait for the future to arrive.

Of course, the future grows from seeds planted each day.

What seemed fantastic a few decades ago is commonplace today and will be obsolete tomorrow.

In 2009, doing a story about genome mapping, I first came across the word terabyte, a unit of digital data. One terabyte can store 1,000 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

New computers were arriving that could analyze and store terabytes of data. It was slashing the time and cost of mapping a plant’s genome, propelling plant breeding far beyond what was possible five years earlier.

Now, five years later, a five terabyte hard drive costs about $250. Genome mapping is cheaper and quicker.

Computing power has evolved at a breakneck pace for decades. 

Gordon Moore, a cofounder of the computer company Intel, wrote a paper in 1965 observing that computing speed doubled about every 18 months without an increase in cost. That’s held true over the decades and is now known as Moore’s Law. It is what has given us $100 smartphones that are hundreds of times more powerful than the portable computers of the 1980s, which cost thousands of dollars. 

Diamandis and Kotler note that such exponential growth is powerful, changing something from meager to massive overnight.

Their book argues the same trend is happening across a range of technologies — computers, the internet, robotics, digital manufacturing, genetic and nano technology.

In agriculture, advancements such as drought resistance, improved fertilizer uptake and increased nutrition will happen. Field sensors, monitoring with drones, robotic harvesters and precision farming will improve yields while using far fewer inputs. Hydroponic vertical farms, artificial meat — are all possible.

Sure, there will be obstacles: consumer acceptance, corporate control, inequities between rich and poor to name a few. There is even the potential of overproduction and the threat that poses to farm income.

But we will work them out, as we always have. I can’t wait for tomorrow because the future looks better every day.

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