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C-Realm Podcast

"C" stands for consciousness

Episode 77: AI (Agricultural Intelligence)

In this installment, KMO speaks with Colin Tudge and David Blume about the possible applications of high technology, genetic engineering, robotics and artificial intelligence in farming.

Both of the guests on this week's program have long and impressive bios which I did not even attempt to do justice when I introduced them. Here is a tasty tidbit from David Blume's bio:
KQED, San Francisco’s Public Broadcasting System station, asked Dave to put his alcohol workshop on television, and together they spent two years making the ten-part series, Alcohol as Fuel. To accompany the series, Dave wrote the comprehensive manual on the subject, the original Alcohol Can Be A Gas! Shortly after the first show aired, in 1983, oil companies threatened to pull out their funding if the series was continued. KQED halted the distribution of the series and book (see this current book’s Introduction for the whole story).

And here's a snippet from Colin Tudge's bio:
CT nurses the conviction that human beings are basically both sensible and nice and that if only democracy could be made to work—creating societies based on people's real desires and values, as opposed to those assumed by economists and governments—then the world would be a much better place. After so many decades of muddle-headedness and abuse, it may well be too late to keep the world in a tolerable state. Yet this still may be achievable, and is surely worth a try.

At the end of the show, I mentioned Martin Ball's new podcast, the Entheogenic Evolution. You can find it here:


Laboratory AIDS

And I also made mention of a recent episode of Mike Hagan's RadiOrbit program which features an interview with Ed Boyd Graves. You can download that episode here:


Do NOT ignore the black man with the flow chart!

Finally, here is a sample from the journal of Russian sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin that C-Realm sponsor, Lorin K. sent to me:


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 14th, 2008 10:27 pm (UTC)
Okay, David Blume just ticked me off. Yes, he had very insightful notes on permaculture. On that topic I found him interesting.

Then you asked him a reasonable question about robotic farming, and he claimed that farming is not drudgery. Look, Dave, "The image that farming is drudgery and tedious," as you say, is promoted not by a cabal of farm machinery brainwashing marketing flacks, but by me and lots of folks like me, folks who had parents who gardened little plots of hell and pimped their kids to the dirt. I garnered that first-hand info hoeing rows, tilling, pulling weeds, and gathering the resultant "crops," most of which I detested then and hate to this day and therefore gathered not one calorie without gagging. The '70s sucked.

". . . (W)hen it comes to growing crops, that work is pretty much a joy. . ." my ass, Dave. Simpler minds like yours might find tedium and drudgery "joy," oh, that I can see; but don't try to polish a turd and say "Shiney is pretty, and therefore it smells great!"

I think I completely see where you were going with the robotic farming, kmo, and resent like hell those crypto-hippies that poo-poo progress I'd like to see in favor of their smash-the-state rustification of civilization.
Feb. 14th, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
I spent a summer a few years back as an apprentice to an organic market gardener. I will certainly grant that putting in new garden beds by hand, at least the way Patrice did (and does) it, counts as drudgery in my book. At the same time, it sure was good exercise, and we didn't do it all day, and there was a great organic lunch prepared by a French chef in the middle of the day, so I can hardly regret the experience or resent it as you seem to resent the forced labor in your parents' garden. Even so, if there was a pack of garden weasel robots on hand to do the heavy digging, I think I'd give them the go ahead.

I'd probably let them do SOME of the weeding, too, particularly if I had to go out of town, but weeding puts my in a good frame of mind, so I wouldn't want to outsource that task to the garden bots completely.

I'm basically with Colin Tudge in that I'm open to seeing AI put to the task of making the small farmer's life a more enjoyable and rewarding one, but I don't hold any enthusiasm for a cyber-spiffy future of highly centralized, no-humans-required, corporate agra-business with the vast bulk of the bulky population having no more clue where their food comes from than they do today.
Feb. 14th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Drudgery
I'm basically with Colin Tudge in that I'm open to seeing AI put to the task of making the small farmer's life a more enjoyable and rewarding one. . .

Me too. I think the tech could be the de-centralizing mechanism.

Let's say someone invents a Garden Robo-Weasel. This would be too expensive to implement on a massive scale, but just perfect for a backyard garden. The machines would be marketed to small restaurants who wished a steady supply of fresh whatevers but didn't have the time to tend the garden, or just a household wishing the same. Also, the automation would be the attraction to many. Who doesn't love staring at slowly moving gadgets tending to any task? It's more rewarding than a goldfish bowl.

Get enough of these robo-patches in a city and, let's say, what will the owners do with the excesses? Why, sell them to the farmer's market. In fact, the owners needn't do the selling. A "farmer" might just gather a bit here and a bit more there from local robo-patches for the sale, reimbursing the patch owners. Decentralized farming embodied! The close proximity to the market itself becomes the advantage against which no massive mechanized acreage can compete.

Yes, I do agree that those that wish to weed, or till, or whatever do whatever they like. That doesn't mean that someone with a desire to do more than plant grass shouldn't have the tools to do so without being obliged to kneel in the muck. Hence the 'bots.

Computers started as massive investments made by big, big organizations. Now they power toys. Same with audio production facilities, video. All the trends point to small operations employing the food bots first, however. Only the small ops can afford to buy the things as a hobby. I could be wrong, but that's not surprising.
May. 16th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
Ahem...work schedule has obviously not been cooperating, as I finally got to this episode yesterday [May 15, 2008], then spent my habitual 24-hours "try to understand this viscerally before deciding if I have anything to say".

I'd like to point out that automation (whether by robots or more virtually, web servers) has the potential to create very high structural unemployment (and underemployment) rates -- while maintaining a large enough real productivity to maintain current U.S. material standards of living, if the welfare net is extended. As a large proportion of the general public derives their self-value from their work, this does pose an imminent public mental health crisis.

As such, I really don't know what to think of the bipartisan Keynesian rescue check. I don't particularly like it emotionally (for political reasons), but it is a precedent for proposing a "living existence wage", which I think is the safest way to transition to a high structural unemployment.

(Yes, I'm assuming the energy situation will be politically solved. It's already technologically solved; Mobil's patent on the ZSM-5 process is from the early 1980's, and furthermore Mobil is willing to license the patent (cf. OceanEthanol). Older processes based on coal conversion basically mean the U.S. will be the only modern-day nation with fossil-fuel reserves in a century. Hopefully, we won't need them. ZSM-5 and its direct competitors won't save either high-pesticide monoculture or one-hundred-mile each-way daily commutes without public transportion, but I really don't see the latter as an improvement of life.

And, of course, these direct-synthesis of gasoline/diesel/aviation fuel/heating oil technologies will make biofuels (both cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel) very economically favorable; I expect direct-synthesis to close the gap between natural demand and biofuel supply.)
May. 16th, 2008 05:24 pm (UTC)
And, looking at the other thread:

Hate to say this, but anything (even intellectual work, such as the online store backend programming I do) can be converted to drudgery by either excess, or having to do it. Physical labor has no monopoly on drudgery.

Worse, to be good at something we generally have to be emotionally involved in it, so that coping technique is less than useful here.

I don't really have that much to say on how to manage this. Knowing that physical memory and intellectual memory are very different in biological implementation, I think that there is practical value in intentionally having several different forms of play that cross-train survival or job skills, and that use widely different sensory modalities.

(That said, where I'd really like to see non-sentient robots is in woodworking and metalworking. These are also key endeavors for "closing the manufacturing loop", and also physically dangerous enough that anyone who even seriously tries not to die of old age wants to avoid power tools -- which are pretty much necessary for doing the job "fast enough".)

Edited at 2008-05-16 05:30 pm (UTC)
May. 16th, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
That coping technique
...so that coping technique is less than useful here.

It's been a while since I put this show out. I don't know what "that coping technique" refers to.

I think that there is practical value in intentionally having several different forms of play that cross-train survival or job skills, and that use widely different sensory modalities.

That sounds like good sense to me. And yes, I'd like to avoid power tools as much as possible.
May. 16th, 2008 07:51 pm (UTC)
Re: That coping technique
...so that coping technique is less than useful here.
It's been a while since I put this show out. I don't know what "that coping technique" refers to.
That is a grammatical error on my part, and not intended as a direct reference to the show at all.

One way to avoid experiencing drudgery is to just supervise what you're doing, rather than mindfully pay full attention to the whole experience (tactile, auditory, visual, etc.). However, it's not that good a tradeoff. It's next to impossible for us to actually be good at something without emotional involvement (as a focusing aid on self-instructing the technique being used).

(The pan-religious unspirituality of such an evasion of immediate experience, is also a warning that such evasion is a fruitless idea.)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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