It’s not a farm that grows robots, but rather one that uses robots to grow food. And it may be a look into the future of agriculture. Robotic development has been seen for years as one of the key ingredients to a society without the economic concerns it has today. But will the project be successful? Or will there be a new crop of controversy to thrive thanks to these metal machines?
When the Ministry of Agriculture in Japan saw the devastation of much of the ravaged land left behind in the wake of the 2011 tsunami, they saw a problem hoping to become an opportunity. A patch of land 600 acres in size needed people to work on it and supply much needed wheat, fruit, and rice to the Nikkei still looking for an effective way to bounce back from an overwhelming catastrophe. But the conditions were too hazardous and unpredictable for traditional farmers to contend with. Their answer was to allocate funds to the tune of $50 million to develop the troubled Miyagi prefecture so that in six years the robot operated farm would soon be rocketing the area on the road to recovery. Everything from tilling the land to the actual processing of grown goods will be handled by robots.
The tsunami disaster brought in tons of sea salt and oil which washed over once lush farmland and effectively poisoned it.
But the idea of robotic labor has always had its share of controversy. In times when labor is at a surplus and jobs in the industrial sector are often in scarce supply, developing a growing force of laborers will be sure to raise some eyebrows and maybe set off protests.
The industrialization of machines and the shrinking of available tasks for the average citizen are both subjects that have seen their share of controversy in the past. The Nottingham Luddites of the 19th century opposed the industrialization of their trade as the Napoleonic wars raged on. The term sabotage itself is said to have come from the Netherlands in the 15th century would respond to fears of massive working machines by throwing their wooden shoes into the machinery – rendering it unusable. No doubt these concerns will one day be carefully considered – as more simple-yet-increasingly-advanced robots enter the work force.
In the future there may be entire industries driven by robotic manufacturers, and as these machines find their niche in the market they will only accelerate their improvements just as computers did after they reached the public sector. And what we considered a wide array of limitations on robotics in the past may no longer be the case. Additionally, the oversight of these machines may require ever increasingly more complex decision making algorithms. And who knows what form of artificial intelligence will arise from this mixture as these robots take their journey out into the fields and enter their own agricultural age.