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Growing Technology

RSS By: Ben Potter,

Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.


Farming the Future Means Dreaming Big Today

May 02, 2013

Two months ago, when I was interviewing people for my Top Producer article "Farming the Future" (about farm life in 2043), I was prepared to hear any idea. Driverless tractors? Sure. Weed-zapping robots? Bring them on.

But then futurist Jim Carroll proposed something I couldn’t get my brain wrapped around: microchips on corn plants that would transmit real-time field conditions and nutrient needs back to the farm office. Knowing that information would certainly be valuable, but I couldn’t get past the potential cost and impracticality of such a set-up.

I put the thought aside as pure science fiction. Maybe our distant relatives will use this technology on the moon in a thousand years, but corn that wirelessly transmits its own water and nutrient needs will certainly never happen in my lifetime.

Today, I watched a 94-second film and immediately changed my mind. Here it is so you can watch it, too. 


The film, titled "A Boy And His Atom," was developed by IBM Research scientists "to engage with students, to prompt them to ask questions," as Andreas Heinrich, IBM's principal scientist, told the Associated Press. It also happens to be the world’s smallest film – a stop-motion movie built with individual atoms with a frame measuring about one-millionth of an inch tall. Heinrich says IBM is using similar techniques in its efforts to make smaller-scale data storage possible.

I immediately turned my thoughts back to Carroll, who had told me something so absurd, I dismissed it out of hand. IBM is researching how to manipulate individual atoms to improve data storage right now. Row crops that transmit per-plant data wirelessly suddenly doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched concept anymore.

I try to be open-minded and optimistic about the future. "A Boy And His Atom" was a nice reminder of that.

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