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December 4, 2018

On the Friend with Amy Webb

Amy Webb // WTF FOOD

The future of food is coming to a dinner table near you — perhaps even to your own kitchen. GenPop asked best-selling futurist Amy Webb to give us some ideas of things to watch.

Finless fish — Say goodbye to tofu imitations of traditional fish. Scientists are getting closer to culturing fish and meats in a lab. The clean protein movement is heading toward acellular agriculture, which doesn’t even require starter cells from animals, and “brews” meat from microbes. This will allow researchers to someday cultivate milk, chicken and eggs. Impossible Burger, a meat patty grown using plant materials, is already on the market in high-end burger joints and even White Castle; consumers report that they really can’t tell the difference between it and real meat. Finless Foods is working on a lab-grown fish product.
It will be 10 to 15 years before producers are able to scale production to meet demand, but by that time we might be printing our own hamburgers at home.

Indoor microfarms kitchens — Japanese researchers are developing plant factories—indoor microfarms—that can grow enough hydroponic lettuce to feed local communities. The lettuce is grown without soil or sunlight and needs just 40 days to mature before it’s shipped to supermarkets. At the Kansai Science City, one of 200 microfarms throughout Japan, much of the work is automated. Raising seedlings, replanting, watering, adjusting the light and harvesting is done using artificial intelligence and collaborative robots. Genomic editing techniques that are moving from the fringe to the mainstream, combined with AI and vertical staking techniques, could very well result in a future in which restaurants have both walk-in refrigerators and microfarms.

Food flashlights — You might have heard about the recent extra virgin olive oil scandal, which involved a ring of well-known Italian olive oil brands misrepresenting lesser-quality EVOO as the good stuff. Knowing exactly what’s in your food won’t be a problem in the future thanks to artificial intelligence. Deep learning will soon be used to help us learn what’s in the food we eat—and where it came from. Computer models will be able to calculate the nutritional value of your meal before you take your first bite. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts are using deep learning for computer-assisted dietary assessments, while scientists at Microsoft have already incorporated prototypes for recognizing photos of popular Asian and Western foods into Bing’s local search engine. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, students are working on an organic barcode that’s invisible to us but could be read by machines to help consumers more easily trace produce as it is transported around the world.


Amy Webb is the founder of the Future Today Institute, a professor at New York University Stern School of Business and author of “The Signals Are Talking.”

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