ST. LOUIS — Futurist Thomas Frey says we’re entering a period of unprecedented opportunity.
“Because humanity is going to change more in the next 20 years than in all history,” he told the audience at InfoAg, an agriculture technology conference in St. Louis.
Certainly, 2019 is a down economic year for agriculture, but the InfoAg organizers wanted to offer a glimpse into brighter future for the industry. That’s why they invited Frey of the DaVinci Institute to the conference.
“We want you to sit back, think about the future and maybe think about things a little bit differently than you have before — think about a brighter future and maybe some interesting things you haven’t thought of before, said Paul Schrimpf, PrecisionAg editor.
He explained that Frey has “an ability to develop hacker visions of the future and describe opportunities ahead. Frey also has started 17 businesses himself and assisted on the development of hundreds more.
“The understanding he brings to the audience is a rare blend of reality-based thinking coupled with a clear-headed vision of the world that ahead.”
Here’s what Frey had to say about “The Disruptive Eight Future Industries.”
1. Trillion Sensor Movement: Frey pointed out that a recent conference asked how long it would be before we reach the first trillion sensors in the world.
“They concluded that we will reach the first trillion sensors in the world in 2022, and that by 2036, we will have 100 trillion sensors,” he said.
With “millions of different possibilities,” Frey said sensors will become easy to mass produce inexpensively and can be tiny or even “fluid” in the form of paint, for example.
He recently saw a demonstration of “smart pants” that offer vibration signals for walking directions, as well as plans for a skin patch like a Band-Aid.
After all, the first smartphone that came out in 2007 had five sensors in it.
“Now the average smart phone has over 20 sensors in it,” Frey said.
2. Internet of Things: The internet of things came about somewhere between 2008 and 2009, Frey said, adding that he predicts that “10% of the world’s population will be working closely connected to the internet by 2022. That’s just a couple of years away. We’re going to start seeing this stuff roll out very quickly, in that this is going to open the door for tons of micro industries.”
3. Crytocurrencies-Block Chain: Frey said it wasn’t that long ago that we came up with block chain, giving the world “the ability to add some rhyme and reason to this architecture that we’re creating. Block chain is only a piece of the equation. It’s not the whole thing.
“That we’re creating 5K systems around the world is more than just speed.” Frey said. “This is about capacity and durability.”
4. Flying Drones: Every time there’s a dramatic new event, Frey said a new function tends to be added to flying drones.
He pointed to such examples as adding speakers and microphones, infra red filter sensors, robotic arms that can hold and then release items or cameras to inspect the tops of treacherous windmills or high towers.
“We can we can manage the construction of buildings a 1,000 miles away or monitor our crops the other side of the world,” he said, adding that the opportunities are myriad.
5. Driverless Technologies: In what Frey called “a digital twin,” the robotic technologies that can operate a driverless car are based on even more sensors and digital replicas of operators.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about large pieces of equipment, a cruise ship, a big tractor or whether it’s a generator at a power plant. If something goes wrong, we can monitor this from 1,000 miles away. Then we can figure out if something happens that we know exactly what went wrong, and we can send the right crew in with the right parts to fix it,” Frey said.
These opportunities open the door to what he called remote robotics or telerobotics.
“And not only will we be able to monitor this equipment, we will be able to operate remotely,” Frey said. “So, at what point will the operator no longer need to be in the vehicle? Do you actually need to sit in the tractor to operate it? Can you be sitting in your living room?
“More importantly, if you’re a retired farmer, can you still farm in Montana while you’re at a retirement home in Arizona? Do farmers ever need to retire in the future?”
6. and 7. 3D Printing and Mixed Reality: “This world is transforming very quickly,” Frey said.
Far different from video games, these technologies allow users to experience real situations in a digital format for training, learning, manufacturing and many other purposes.
“And so in the very near future, farmers will be able to scan a field and know exactly what’s going on in that field, know exactly where the problem areas are and then linking over the distance to a live person to inspect them personally,” Frey said.
Another example Frey shared are reading glasses. He said by 2024 that 10% of reading glasses will be connected to the internet.
8. Artificial Intelligence: “The one that really caught my attention was this one here, as I I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of underground farming,” Frey explained.
“Imagine if somebody can actually drill a hole in the ground that they can put a honeycomb-like construction and put a robotic arm in the center of it, they can actually then control that environment with technology,” he said.
This vertical greenhouse concept is one that could convert 100 square foot of land into 10,000 square feet of growing space and manned by artificial intelligence to make the decisions about watering, light exposure, harvesting and so forth.
“This underground carving has the potential to increase our growing ability dramatically with this type production and there are a couple of companies working on it now. I think this increases our ability to grow food 1000-fold across the planet,” Frey said.
“Imagine the first greenhouses we could put in places like northern Canada in the tundra or in Central Australia or in the Sahara Desert. We can grow food everywhere and all year round,” he explained.
“These are some of the ways I think about the future of agriculture, that this is the coolest profession on earth and the future the farmer is going to become the conductor of an orchestra as we have all these machines and information and data that they direct as they conduct the symphony.
“The future is never a destination is always a journey. It’s always changing. It’s always different.”
This and other scenarios prompt Frey to ask: “So, what new industries will replace agriculture? We question that a little bit here.
“The future of farming is all about consumer demand. Everything from the farm, to the factory, to the marketplace, every new level of efficiency matters, but in the end, consumers will decide.”