Eye on AI - February 25th, 2022
Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!
This week, we’ll be addressing two future trends in agriculture and food production before shifting gears to delve into how noise-canceling headphones may improve your next in-flight meal.
Reimagining Farming Methods Key to Improving Food Production
Let’s begin with a look at the always reliable Bernard Marr’s recent article “The Biggest Future Trends In Agriculture And Food Production,” which describes two broad farming trends that are revolutionizing food production.
“While previous evolutions in farming have largely been driven by mechanical improvements (namely, bigger, better machinery) or genetic advances (better seed, more effective fertilizers, etc.), the next big transformation is being driven by digital tools,” writes Marr.
The first of these methods is the reimagining of farming methods. Scientists estimate that, due to our increasing population, we’ll need to increase food production up to 68% by 2050. That’s a high bar with land availability being scarce, especially when you consider that traditional farming methods lead to an increase in CO2 output. Increasing food production while increasing CO2 isn’t an option given our current state of global warming. However, by turning to digital technology rather than the more traditional farming techniques of the past, it’s now possible for farmers to boost production and reduce CO2 output.
Automation using drones, autonomous tractors, and other robots improves farming efficiencies while reducing energy consumption. Precision farming, or the practice of applying fertilizers and maintenance on a per-need basis rather than at blanket times, helps save on fertilizer costs and improve production in more limited areas. Localized urban farming reduces shipping costs by decreasing the distance between producers and consumers. And vertical farming, or the practice of growing crops in vertical layers, helps increase production with limited land use.
“... the world’s largest vertical farm, located in Newark, New Jersey, shows that vertical farming can be done on a huge scale and with impressive results,” writes Marr. “Creators AeroFarm say the vertical farm is 390 times more productive per square foot than a field farm.”
Finding new ways to create food (especially meat), the second method described by Marr, is in my view the more complicated dilemma. Researchers point to the adoption of a plant-based diet as the most effective way for humans to reduce their carbon footprint. That’s a hard sell when you have a population that’s obsessed with meat consumption. Many cultures and religions evolve around meat and dairy; demanding that they halt consumption of these food groups altogether would be, put it mildly, a tall order. However, with “one-third of croplands used to grow feed for livestock rather than humans,” it’s essential that livestock-based meat and dairy consumption be reduced. To address this problem, researchers have found success in plant-based meat.
“Chains like Burger King are routinely stocking plant-based burgers, and plant-based pioneers Beyond Meat became one of the most successful IPOs in history after going public at $1.5 billion and being valued at $13 billion less than three months later,” continues Marr. “In fact, estimates suggest meat alternatives could account for 10 percent of the global meat industry by 2029.”
For those still opposed to plant-based meats, cultured meat, which is genetically the same as agricultural meat only produced from a cell rather than a raised animal, could become a viable alternative. That would allow farmers to produce real meat without the need for factory farms and mass animal slaughter, which I’m sure most would support. There’s also the possibility of 3D-printed meat. While this method is still in its infancy, its future looks promising, as the Barcelona-based startup NovaMeat has already successfully created the world’s first 3D printed piece of “meat” that apparently mimics the fibrous nature of real meat.
There’s no question the farming community is facing immense challenges. Through technology, it’s possible they can all be met and overcome. The thing I worry about isn’t technology, but adoption: how can we convince people these alternatives are as good as or better than traditional agriculture? Time will tell if the more controversial food production methods catch on.
Wear Noise Canceling Headphones to Improving Air Travel Food Taste
Shifting gears, let’s turn our attention to how AI can improve the in-flight taste of food. According to the Express article “Plane food is improved by noise-canceling headphones – ‘makes food taste better,’” conditions associated with air travel can make food taste worse, with airplane noise linked to increasing bitterness by 10 percent. Now, thanks to noise cancellation technology, passengers can improve the taste of food and beverages in the air simply by slipping on their headphones.
“Donning a pair of noise-canceling headphones could actually be one of the simplest ways in which to make food and drink taste better at altitude,” writes Oxford Professor Charles Spence.
While this method could markedly improve meals in-flight for anyone who can’t stand airplane food, there is a community of those who prefer airplane food. You may remember a story we covered a while back on how AirAsia’s Santan food brand was expanding to open brick and mortar locations in Malaysia. With the pandemic putting airplane food in higher demand than ever, Santan is now expanding from 15 Malaysian-based locations to 100 franchises worldwide. Perhaps this has something to do with travel nostalgia brought on by the pandemic, who knows. All I can say is that I plan on trying a ‘before and after’ taste test using noise-canceling headphones on my next flight.
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