14 votes

The Age of Robot Farmers - Picking strawberries takes speed, stamina, and skill. Can a robot do it?

40 comments

  1. [39]
    NaraVara Link
    I find it interesting that the solution to a labor crunch in fruit picking is automatically to go for full automation rather than improving the efficiency and conditions of the laborers. Perhaps...

    I find it interesting that the solution to a labor crunch in fruit picking is automatically to go for full automation rather than improving the efficiency and conditions of the laborers. Perhaps if we actually liked Mexicans or poor laborers, we'd have focused our creative energy on finding ways to make their lives easier instead of putting our creativity towards finding ways to get rid of them.

    We have a labor crunch that is likely due to low-pay and shitty working conditions. Presumably nobody wants to pay the prices at the store that would sustain higher wages, but you can get around that by making the pickers more efficient or making the job of picking nicer so more people would be willing to do it. That seems easier that than putting all the capital investment it would take to build entire vertical farms and robots to do it.

    Why not focus on using technology to improve the quality of life and effectiveness of the fruit pickers? The greenhouse/vertical farm ideas are good examples. It mentions that one of the impediments is the carbon and financial costs of artificial lighting and climate. But would we need to go all in? Could we use some of the vertical farming technology just to grow things at hip or shoulder level to spare people the trouble of bending over?

    Or how about drones that carry the fruit around for the pickers so they can focus on picking and and not have to carry boxes and baskets? How about a drone that literally just follows people around with a parasol and a fan so it's less uncomfortable to be baking in the sun as they do this?

    Maybe that stuff is all too expensive since it's functionally a wage increase. But these little applications of technology all seem like lower hanging fruit (pun intended) than developing a robot that can fully replace a human being at this. If we can make the capital investment to do the latter and be profitable at it, we could surely do the former way sooner. They even kind of hint at this in the article where he says the easy stuff to automate they don't bother automating because the wages they need to pay are already so low that it isn't worth it.

    6 votes
    1. [30]
      onyxleopard Link Parent
      So, where is that offset going to come from then? Will customers accept paying more for the product, or will the seller accept less profit? If you can’t negotiate either of those options (or some...

      Maybe that stuff is all too expensive since it's functionally a wage increase.

      So, where is that offset going to come from then? Will customers accept paying more for the product, or will the seller accept less profit? If you can’t negotiate either of those options (or some of both), it’s a non-starter.

      I have an analogous anecdote from a molecular biologist I know. They were working on genetically engineering bacteria to produce certain chemicals that were traditionally produced by chemists with very wasteful methods. It turned out that they succeeded in genetically engineering bacteria that would produce the stuff in enough quantity more cheaply and less wastefully than the American chemists. But, Chinese chemists entered the market, and since they were not bound by the same standards of lab cleanliness, OSHA, etc. that American chemists were, they dropped the floor out of the market, and so the whole project was scrapped. Technology can, indeed, offer objectively better solutions to certain problems. But, the parameters have to be set such that human livelihoods are valued more than the products of their labor. Unfortunately, globalist, capitalist regimes are not amenable to that.

      8 votes
      1. [7]
        NaraVara Link Parent
        Either that or a public subsidy. Lots of countries justify agricultural subsidies to the World Trade Organization on the grounds that they need to maintain traditional agrarian practices and...

        So, where is that offset going to come from then? Will customers accept paying more for the product, or will the seller accept less profit?

        Either that or a public subsidy. Lots of countries justify agricultural subsidies to the World Trade Organization on the grounds that they need to maintain traditional agrarian practices and culture and these things would die off without protection. That's functionally just having customers pay more, but it's an invisible way of doing it.

        But, the parameters have to be set such that human livelihoods are valued more than the products of their labor.

        This is a bit of a moral conundrum, because it's not settled that our culture has the optimal valuation on human livelihoods. Lots of people argue that American culture, in particular, has an unhealthy and anti-humanistic terror of death that causes us to pursue extended life-spans at the expense of other things like quality of life. You see this in cases where folks get really up in arms about unplugging people living in persistent vegetative states.

        Even more people argue that many of our safety requirements are excessive and don't trust people, especially children, enough to handle themselves. Regulations around swimming pools are a good example, where in lots of places it's basically illegal to have a pool unless it's completely locked and fenced in. We could just tell our kids to not play around by the pool and accept the risk that the occasional unattended toddler might drown as an alternative as people had done for ages past.

        4 votes
        1. [6]
          onyxleopard Link Parent
          I think that’s a separate, but related, issue that has more to do with liability than it has to do with safety. Even if you have zero ethical qualms about toddlers drowning in your pool, if you...

          We could just tell our kids to not play around by the pool and accept the risk that the occasional unattended toddler might drown as an alternative as people had done for ages past.

          I think that’s a separate, but related, issue that has more to do with liability than it has to do with safety. Even if you have zero ethical qualms about toddlers drowning in your pool, if you could be devastated financially in a lawsuit by the parents, you’re going spend more to mitigate that risk (maybe even going beyond whatever is required by law). The legal recourses that are allowed put some lower bound on the value of the toddler’s life. That’s related to OSHA, where the rules are set up to protect workers generally, but some people feel like it flies in the face of individual responsibility and the notion of informed consent. In the case of toddlers, though, there isn’t really a possibility of informed consent (you can’t get toddlers to sign a contract that stipulates that they assume the risk of playing unattended near a pool).

          Personally, the notion that we should have protective laws makes sense, because I think without them the incentives for profit end up in races to the bottom for a majority of most risky, low paying jobs. I realize there are also high risk, high paying jobs out there, but I think they’re a minority, though I’m not sure how you effectively legislate to make sure that those jobs get done.

          3 votes
          1. [5]
            NaraVara Link Parent
            Structuring liability that way was specifically done to promote public safety though. Sometime around the 70s the US decided to do regulation by just making everyone scared of getting sued instead...

            I think that’s a separate, but related, issue that has more to do with liability than it has to do with safety. Even if you have zero ethical qualms about toddlers drowning in your pool, if you could be devastated financially in a lawsuit by the parents, you’re going spend more to mitigate that risk (maybe even going beyond whatever is required by law).

            Structuring liability that way was specifically done to promote public safety though. Sometime around the 70s the US decided to do regulation by just making everyone scared of getting sued instead of writing codes and sending inspectors around. So we started expanding the scope of what kinds of damages people can be made liable for and how much responsibility they need to take for things. (Could it be a coincidence that the lion's share of legislators all come from the legal profession?

            I realize there are also high risk, high paying jobs out there, but I think they’re a minority, though I’m not sure how you effectively legislate to make sure that those jobs get done.

            You could just give everyone a UBI and then pick people by lottery for certain jobs (and offer additional "hardship pay" proportional to the nature of the gig). That would be a fairly egalitarian and democratic way of doing it. Perhaps less efficient, but also much fairer.

            2 votes
            1. [4]
              onyxleopard (edited ) Link Parent
              I’m not sure I have as much faith in the average person’s ethics as you. I think there are plenty of amoral or outright immoral people who are forced to act better than they otherwise would due to...

              I’m not sure I have as much faith in the average person’s ethics as you. I think there are plenty of amoral or outright immoral people who are forced to act better than they otherwise would due to the current system. They tend to get away with a lot anyway, though, and the more capital you’ve already acquired, the easier it seems to be to pass liability on to others.

              What you’re talking about with a lottery is like a draft, and I think there’s too much stigma associated with that in the U.S. due to Vietnam and other military drafts. I think it would be very unpopular.

              1 vote
              1. [3]
                NaraVara Link Parent
                I'm not really sure what this has to do with my statement about liability. It's not about having ethics, it's about what level of risk is considered acceptable and how many would argue we've tuned...

                I’m not sure I have as much faith in the average person’s ethics as you.

                I'm not really sure what this has to do with my statement about liability. It's not about having ethics, it's about what level of risk is considered acceptable and how many would argue we've tuned it too low in some places.

                What you’re talking about with a lottery is like a draft, and I think there’s too much stigma associated with that in the U.S. due to Vietnam and other military drafts. It would very unpopular.

                Less popular than importing a bunch of immigrants from poor countries to do the dirty work instead?

                1. [2]
                  onyxleopard Link Parent
                  I think so, but I haven’t seen any polls asking this question ;P. Edit: I think it is about ethics. Ultimately laws are societal implementations of ethical standards (or at least that’s what they...

                  Less popular than importing a bunch of immigrants from poor countries to do the dirty work instead?

                  I think so, but I haven’t seen any polls asking this question ;P.

                  Edit:

                  It's not about having ethics, it's about what level of risk is considered acceptable and how many would argue we've tuned it too low in some places.

                  I think it is about ethics. Ultimately laws are societal implementations of ethical standards (or at least that’s what they attempt to be). If not for moral imperatives, why do we legislate?

                  1 vote
                  1. NaraVara Link Parent
                    Kind of, but in a democratic system they wind up being the output of the power struggles between various interest groups. It doesn't reflect society's prioritization level as much as it does which...

                    Ultimately laws are societal implementations of ethical standards (or at least that’s what they attempt to be).

                    Kind of, but in a democratic system they wind up being the output of the power struggles between various interest groups. It doesn't reflect society's prioritization level as much as it does which interest groups wield more social power. It's possible, and likely, that whatever comes out of the Rube Goldberg machine doesn't resemble what anyone would have agreed on or wanted going in

      2. [22]
        Rez Link Parent
        To add on to your anecdote given the subject of farming and molecular biology, legal marijuana farms are likely to prove to be an ephemeral historical blip. I'm already aware of a start-up in...

        To add on to your anecdote given the subject of farming and molecular biology, legal marijuana farms are likely to prove to be an ephemeral historical blip. I'm already aware of a start-up in California (of which I'm sure there are many more as well as interested scientists) tackling the expression of cannabinoids via microorganisms. The field should eventually prove able to scale substantially better than farms, generating purer product, while being able to selectively produce any of 100+ natural cannabinoids known. Most of those exist only in trace amounts in the plant; THC is the popularly known one. Being able to produce at scale with purity will allow scientists to better conduct research on them all (since natural doesn't equal safe), while also further dropping market prices with added product variety and consistent experience.

        3 votes
        1. [21]
          onyxleopard Link Parent
          In that case, I think they’ll have to overcome the ill-informed hysteria about GMOs. I think since some parts of the marijuana industry already have embraced genetic engineering in the plants,...

          In that case, I think they’ll have to overcome the ill-informed hysteria about GMOs. I think since some parts of the marijuana industry already have embraced genetic engineering in the plants, they’d may be open to getting the chemicals from bugs, too, but you never know what the irrational reactions of the market will look like.

          3 votes
          1. [20]
            NaraVara Link Parent
            To be honest I find the debate around GMOs extremely disheartening to the point where I suspect the anti-vaxxer "public-safety" folks might just be controlled opposition from Big Ag. The only...

            ill-informed hysteria about GMOs

            To be honest I find the debate around GMOs extremely disheartening to the point where I suspect the anti-vaxxer "public-safety" folks might just be controlled opposition from Big Ag.

            The only major problem GMOs solve is that of profitability for Big Ag. Insofar as we have food shortages, they're due to poor distribution, economic inequality, and logistical and infrastructural hurdles moreso than bad yields. There is far more food that rots in the field because it can't get harvested and brought to market in time than there is extra yield we'd get from squeezing higher productivity out of our soybean crops. So when they talk about how we MUST have GMOs to combat hunger they're blowing smoke up everyone's asses.

            Now while the concerns about health and safety from ingesting GMOs are definitely absurd, there are other major ecological issues and public health issues associated with them that don't get a hearing because the bootleg nutritionists take up all the oxygen. Only very specific types of crops get the GMO treatment, because all that R&D needs big scale to actually reap any returns. So all this does is promotes greater centralization of the food industry and monoculture. Biodiversity and food diversity take a back seat and will have negative effects on our culinary and environmental landscapes. This will also mean farmers are more in hoc to large corporate interests and at the mercy of the vagaries of international commodity prices.

            The only actual social benefit I see from GMOs is if they can reduce pesticide use and other runoff. And if that was the focus we'd be going somewhere. But all the economic incentives and the weak regulatory frameworks around it all but guarantee this is just going to be one more step in the cyberpunk future where a handful of zaibatsu run everything. It's Enclosure Acts part II.

            1 vote
            1. [19]
              onyxleopard Link Parent
              There are lots of attributes of crops you can engineer besides just making them Round-up ready etc. You can make them more nutritious or taste better, or make them more genetically diverse to...

              There are lots of attributes of crops you can engineer besides just making them Round-up ready etc. You can make them more nutritious or taste better, or make them more genetically diverse to improve the odds of crops going extinct due to disease etc. Just because Big Ag is only putting certain GMOs to market doesn’t mean those are the only useful applications.

              4 votes
              1. [18]
                NaraVara Link Parent
                Sure we could do all these things, but we won't because the market incentives don't line up to make them happen. The focus is on saleability and yields almost exclusively (at least in the US)....

                There are lots of attributes of crops you can engineer besides just making them Round-up ready etc. You can make them more nutritious or taste better, or make them more genetically diverse to improve the odds of crops going extinct due to disease etc. Just because Big Ag is only putting certain GMOs to market doesn’t mean those are the only useful applications.

                Sure we could do all these things, but we won't because the market incentives don't line up to make them happen.

                The focus is on saleability and yields almost exclusively (at least in the US). Produce has actually been getting less nutritious over time because of soil depletion and prioritizing attributes like color and size/weight over taste.

                In light of that, I'm not sure why we're expected to fight to help big ag get bigger. The upshot will wind up being of dubious benefit to the consumer or the citizen. We'll get bigger and prettier produce that's less nutritious and has less flavor. Cool I guess? It's up in the air as to whether food will even be any cheaper because commodity prices for agriculture depend more on how the subsidies and tax incentives shake out than any organic process of supply and demand.

                1. [17]
                  onyxleopard Link Parent
                  You can oppose GMOs for whatever reasons you want, but to oppose them because only companies that you dislike use GMOs in their business practices is stupid. That would be like saying you hate...

                  In light of that, I'm not sure why we're expected to fight to help big ag get bigger.

                  You can oppose GMOs for whatever reasons you want, but to oppose them because only companies that you dislike use GMOs in their business practices is stupid. That would be like saying you hate HTML because all the websites of companies you dislike use HTML. It’s not productive and if you convince enough people to also hate HTML for illegitimate reasons, you kill useful technologies.

                  3 votes
                  1. [16]
                    NaraVara Link Parent
                    I don't buy this argument in the slightest. There are plenty of things people oppose because we, as a society, aren't set up to use that freedom productively. We don't allow food or drink on...

                    You can oppose GMOs for whatever reasons you want, but to oppose them because only companies that you dislike use GMOs in their business practices is stupid. That would be like saying you hate HTML because all the websites of companies you dislike use HTML. It’s not productive and if you convince enough people to also hate HTML for illegitimate reasons, you kill useful technologies.

                    I don't buy this argument in the slightest. There are plenty of things people oppose because we, as a society, aren't set up to use that freedom productively. We don't allow food or drink on public transit because people can't be trusted to be keep the space clean and you get a vermin problem. We don't let any old fellow hang up a shingle and start practicing medicine because it would be insane to do that without thoroughly vetting them to make sure they aren't a quack. We don't let people cook narcotics in their back yards or distill liquor without regulations because when we let that happen people get killed.

                    Even the death penalty. Maybe it's fine in theory, but a society as deeply racist as ours can't ever dispense it in a way that's fair or just. We kill plenty of useful technologies by pursuing GMOs as well, like emphasis on logistics and supply chains as the way to address food security rather than emphasis on modifying the foods. Pursuing one avenue to solve a problem closes off others and that chokes off their growth by starving them of resources.

                    1 vote
                    1. [15]
                      onyxleopard Link Parent
                      But we already use GMOs very productively! Something like 90% of cheese in the US is made from GM yeast. People who are uninformed about GMOs generally wouldn’t like the lay of the land if GMOs...

                      There are plenty of things people oppose because we, as a society, aren't set up to use that freedom productively.

                      But we already use GMOs very productively! Something like 90% of cheese in the US is made from GM yeast. People who are uninformed about GMOs generally wouldn’t like the lay of the land if GMOs were banned, categorically. GMOs are already very well regulated by the EPA and FDA (labeling of products on the shelves in stores is still hit or miss, though).

                      We kill plenty of useful technologies by pursuing GMOs as well, like emphasis on logistics and supply chains as the way to address food security rather than emphasis on modifying the foods. Pursuing one avenue to solve a problem closes off others and that chokes off their growth by starving them of resources.

                      This is fallacious. Developing technology is not zero sum—just because we develop one thing doesn’t mean we scrap everything else.

                      4 votes
                      1. [14]
                        NaraVara (edited ) Link Parent
                        Nothing about that link suggests they’re already “well regulated.” In fact, one of the first paragraphs is “There is no comprehensive federal legislation specifically addressing GMOs. GMOs are...

                        But we already use GMOs very productively! Something like 90% of cheese in the US is made from GM yeast. People who are uninformed about GMOs generally wouldn’t like the lay of the land if GMOs were banned, categorically. GMOs are already very well regulated by the EPA and FDA (labeling of products on the shelves in stores is still hit or miss, though)

                        Nothing about that link suggests they’re already “well regulated.” In fact, one of the first paragraphs is “There is no comprehensive federal legislation specifically addressing GMOs. GMOs are regulated under the general statutory authority of environmental, health, and safety laws.

                        Which basically gets at my criticisms of it. Our environmental regulations are extremely centered around torts, and torts means you need people with standing to sue which means they need material damages they can sue for. There is no framework to look after ecology as an end in itself, to preserve food culture, or anything else.

                        And most of that stuff that does happen is just self-attested “impact analyses” that are barely taken seriously by the organizations doing them.

                        The labeling is a good example. We can do that because it’s a framework for public health. But the issue with GMOs isn’t a public health issue so who cares? It’s a societal and cultural matter, but the only language we have to take action on those things is to claim individual, personal damages. Hence it all gets shoved into this box of pretending “we don’t know if it’s safe to eat” instead of “this is going to make everything that is systemically bad about our food system worse (except maybe the level of pesticide use).”

                        Developing technology is not zero sum—just because we develop one thing doesn’t mean we scrap everything else.

                        Money kind of is zero sum, so are economic agglomeration effects. Path dependence is a very serious thing, notice how all the keyboards are still QWERTY except for random fringe people despite being deliberately illogical and designed to slow typists down?

                        Notice how we build car dependent transit infrastructure and starve most public transit for resources, even in places that are critically dependent on them?

                        1 vote
                        1. [13]
                          onyxleopard Link Parent
                          You’re willfully misinterpreting that statement. There is no comprehensive regulation that specifically regulates GMOs because the way that the US federal government has opted to regulate GMOs is...

                          There is no comprehensive federal legislation specifically addressing GMOs. GMOs are regulated under the general statutory authority of environmental, health, and safety laws.

                          You’re willfully misinterpreting that statement. There is no comprehensive regulation that specifically regulates GMOs because the way that the US federal government has opted to regulate GMOs is the same way that it generally regulates non-GMOs. To say that GMOs are unregulated is to say that the FDA doesn’t regulate food and drugs, or that the EPA doesn’t regulate the environment or factors that affect the environment. I encounter this fallacy so often: GMOs are regulated just like everything else you buy. You can criticize the regulating bodies for not doing a good job, generally (which I don’t take issue with, because there are issues with, say, defunding food safety inspection etc.), but to take specific issue with not regulating GMOs is totally irrational. If you’re not confident in the FDA to regulate food, generally, then go ahead and try to farm your own. But, if you’re going buy stuff at the food market (like the vast majority of the non-agrarian population of the world), at some point you have take it on faith that the stuff you’re buying is highly unlikely to have been maliciously or negligently produced such that it will directly harm you.

                          We can do that because it’s a framework for public health.

                          That’s a particularly narrow interpretation. Personally, I think this should be part of a larger reform where the documentation of the provenance of things that end up on store shelves could be much better at communicating relevant information. Whether a product is a GMO, or there were GMOs that were involved in its production is just one small bit of relevant information that I’d like to see, along with where it came from, geographically, and which corporations were involved in its production and transport (that information is usually available by the supplier, but not necessarily in a normalized format).

                          Money kind of is zero sum

                          That’s irrelevant. Money may be zero sum in some sort of strict economical sense, but the value that is created by research and development dollars is not accountable in the same strict economical sense you’re referring to. We got the internet, microwave ovens, and countless other technologies that have become prevalent in civilian use due to US government funded research on fundamental technologies. The money spent by DARPA, NASA, etc. has created vastly more value than what was put in.

                          Path dependence is a very serious thing

                          Which is exactly why I don’t understand your objection to GMO research! GMOs are a new path which has great promise that is being stifled by Ludditist attitudes. Of course, it should be well regulated, I don’t object to that. What I object to is the abject rejection of the notion that we should even explore genetic engineering as a solution to problems.

                          4 votes
                          1. [12]
                            NaraVara Link Parent
                            And the entire contention has been that this is dumb, because widespread use of GMOs has wider effects beyond just the public health and personal damages centric approaches that the FDA and EPA...

                            There is no comprehensive regulation that specifically regulates GMOs because the way that the US federal government has opted to regulate GMOs is the same way that it generally regulates non-GMOs.

                            And the entire contention has been that this is dumb, because widespread use of GMOs has wider effects beyond just the public health and personal damages centric approaches that the FDA and EPA operate on. You seem to have completely ignored this part of my post, which already covers most of the rest of your post.

                            Personally, I think this should be part of a larger reform where the documentation of the provenance of things that end up on store shelves could be much better at communicating relevant information. Whether a product is a GMO, or there were GMOs that were involved in its production is just one small bit of relevant information that I’d like to see, along with where it came from, geographically, and which corporations were involved in its production and transport (that information is usually available by the supplier, but not necessarily in a normalized format).

                            This is too much to ask of both consumers and of producers. This would functionally turn product packaging into a giant form, except every form would be done differently so nobody would actually bother checking what the relevant information is. Most of what we care about regarding food production is a societal problem, and treating it like an issue for individual consumer choices is basically defanging any attempts to actually do collective action about anything. It turns all broader social concerns into personal acts of virtue signaling instead of concrete action to fix a problem.

                            We got the internet, microwave ovens, and countless other technologies that have become prevalent in civilian use due to US government funded research on fundamental technologies. The money spent by DARPA, NASA, etc. has created vastly more value than what was put in.

                            That doesn’t change how path dependence works. I’m talking about the development of the food industry and having a more human agricultural sector. Intensifying all that’s bad about the way we do things now just makes those things worse and harder to come back from. I honestly don’t see any reasonable argument around this. Genetic research is going to happen regardless of what we do about food regulations, so your fears that this will somehow just disappear all funding for gene therapy or whatever are unfounded.

                            GMOs are a new path which has great promise that is being stifled by Ludditist attitudes.

                            This seems like its willfully ignoring what path dependence actually means. It’s not “new paths.” It’s closing off alternative paths and committing you to courses of action that you can’t come back from.

                            2 votes
                            1. [11]
                              onyxleopard Link Parent
                              Can you enumerate some of these effects? Because I’ve never heard of these effects, nor seen evidence of them. (I suppose possibly you’re referring to pesticides or herbicides? In that case, those...

                              because widespread use of GMOs has wider effects beyond just the public health and personal damages centric approaches that the FDA and EPA operate on.

                              Can you enumerate some of these effects? Because I’ve never heard of these effects, nor seen evidence of them. (I suppose possibly you’re referring to pesticides or herbicides? In that case, those are a separate issue from GMOs, and they predate the discovery of DNA and the practice of genetic engineering.)

                              Can you explain, in simple terms, what harm there is in using genetically modified yeast to produce rennet in the context of producing cheese, instead of getting rennet from mammals?

                              It’s closing off alternative paths and committing you to courses of action that you can’t come back from.

                              By saying that GMOs are categorically not useful, and even harmful (based on some unclear macro-effects that you haven’t clearly laid out), you are literally closing off the paths for developing genetic engineering technology. I don’t know how it could be a more clear example.

                              2 votes
                              1. [10]
                                NaraVara Link Parent
                                I had been mentioning these in my previous posts. This is kind of the problem I was getting at in the beginning. The "safety" argument is so easy to debunk that even when talking to someone who...

                                Because I’ve never heard of these effects, nor seen evidence of them. (I suppose possibly you’re referring to pesticides or herbicides? In that case, those are a separate issue from GMOs, and they predate the discovery of DNA and the practice of genetic engineering.)

                                I had been mentioning these in my previous posts.

                                Now while the concerns about health and safety from ingesting GMOs are definitely absurd, there are other major ecological issues and public health issues associated with them that don't get a hearing because the bootleg nutritionists take up all the oxygen. Only very specific types of crops get the GMO treatment, because all that R&D needs big scale to actually reap any returns. So all this does is promotes greater centralization of the food industry and monoculture. Biodiversity and food diversity take a back seat and will have negative effects on our culinary and environmental landscapes. This will also mean **farmers are more in hoc to large corporate interests and more at the mercy of the vagaries of international commodity prices.

                                The focus is on saleability and yields almost exclusively (at least in the US). Produce has actually been getting less nutritious over time because of soil depletion and prioritizing attributes like color and size/weight over taste.

                                It's up in the air as to whether food will even be any cheaper because commodity prices for agriculture depend more on how the subsidies and tax incentives shake out than any organic process of supply and demand.

                                This is kind of the problem I was getting at in the beginning. The "safety" argument is so easy to debunk that even when talking to someone who isn't making any safety arguments, people still retreat to talking points aimed at safety arguments. It's like we don't even need to bother talking about issues anymore as long as we can sling the same talking points at each other.

                                By saying that GMOs are categorically not useful, and even harmful (based on some unclear macro-effects that you haven’t clearly laid out), you are literally closing off the paths for developing genetic engineering technology.

                                Not really, because there are plenty of other pharmaceutical and biotech incentives to pursue that research anyway. There are no incentives to have a less monocultural and exploitative food production infrastructure though, or to modernize our regulations around it to take long-term economic or ecosystem effects into account.

                                1 vote
                                1. [9]
                                  onyxleopard Link Parent
                                  Genetic engineering needs big industrial scale to reap returns, but not as big as you think. It depends on the organisms you’re working with: I know a molecular biologist who works on yeast and...

                                  Genetic engineering needs big industrial scale to reap returns, but not as big as you think. It depends on the organisms you’re working with: I know a molecular biologist who works on yeast and bacteria (not plants or animals), and you can work on that stuff with a 10 person team in a garage and $100k of equipment. That’s as far a cry from Big-Ag as you can get.

                                  All the problems you raise are problems with capitalism and profit-seeking corporations, not with genetic engineering as a technology.

                                  I agree that it’s important to consider things holistically, but please try not to conflate issues with corporations with science and engineering.

                                  1 vote
                                  1. [8]
                                    NaraVara Link Parent
                                    This is like saying the problem with nuclear reactors is a problem with imperialism and warmongering governments and not with nuclear technology. Okay, sure. But we still exercise due care and...

                                    All the problems you raise are problems with capitalism and profit-seeking corporations, not with genetic engineering as a technology.

                                    This is like saying the problem with nuclear reactors is a problem with imperialism and warmongering governments and not with nuclear technology. Okay, sure. But we still exercise due care and caution with how reactors get built, who has access to knowledge about them, and what happens with supplies of plutonium. We don't just decide to let the technology go out there and let the chips fall where they may.

                                    We live in a capitalistic society with profit-seeking corporations that run everything. You can't just wish the consequences of your decisions away by blaming some other force.

                                    I agree that it’s important to consider things holistically, but please try not to conflate issues with corporations with science and engineering.

                                    You can't consider things holistically without considering them as wholes. That's the entire point.

                                    1 vote
                                    1. [7]
                                      onyxleopard Link Parent
                                      When you label things as dangerous without understanding them, they become bogeymonsters which is good for no one. What if we can’t solve future food issues with conventions methodology? What if...

                                      When you label things as dangerous without understanding them, they become bogeymonsters which is good for no one. What if we can’t solve future food issues with conventions methodology? What if we can’t solve future energy problems without thorium reactors? If all the tech options at our disposal are not studied and developed, we may find ourselves in situations we can’t engineer our way out of because of ignorance.

                                      You can't consider things holistically without considering them as wholes. That's the entire point.

                                      If you only ever consider a holistic view of technology, everything will look bad. It’s not always the most productive way to look at things. E.g. if the kitchen knife were invented today, people would say it’s too dangerous for the average person to use (and you could back that up with emergency room intake data). Just because something has negatives doesn’t mean you should ignore all the positives, esp. if the negatives are not inherent issues.

                                      1 vote
                                      1. [6]
                                        NaraVara Link Parent
                                        How about highlighting dangers with understanding them so we can make collective decisions with actual awareness of risks involved and regulatory systems in place to deal with them instead of just...

                                        When you label things as dangerous without understanding them, they become bogeymonsters which is good for no one.

                                        How about highlighting dangers with understanding them so we can make collective decisions with actual awareness of risks involved and regulatory systems in place to deal with them instead of just taking big agri-business at their word that's it's going to be all good and being completely silent about risk analysis or mitigation?

                                        What if we can’t solve future food issues with conventions methodology?

                                        GMOs is the conventional methodology. All it's doing is intensifying the present system. Going that way instead of exploring other, less centralized production systems is where future food issues.

                                        If all the tech options at our disposal are not studied and developed, we may find ourselves in situations we can’t engineer our way out of because of ignorance.

                                        You seem to be under this impression that if we don't have modified crops with all the wrong priorities underlying their development, then we will never learn how to do genetic engineering. I've already pointed out this is wrong. It's not like all the money for research just evaporates, it just goes to different places. Saying we have to do this path because it happens to be the path we're on now is just reflexive defense of the status quo, not a rational appraisal of the benefits of the technology.

                                        Just because something has negatives doesn’t mean you should ignore all the positives, esp. if the negatives are not inherent issues.

                                        The negatives are inherent issues though. The risks and problems of monoculture are inherent to how GMOs work. You could regulate a better way to do it, but not surprisingly the boosters of the technology are too invested in defending it as a vague tribalist than than to bother talking about how to mitigate any of the downsides. You can't blame people for standing athwart them yelling "stop" if the people pushing for it are so intent on charging ahead with no respect or regard for any stake holders other than giant agribusiness.

                                        1 vote
                                        1. [5]
                                          onyxleopard Link Parent
                                          You’re not arguing in good faith if you’re going to stick to this point that I’ve already refuted. GMOs are already well-regulated (just as much as any other food products, at any rate). I don’t...

                                          with actual awareness of risks involved and regulatory systems in place to deal with them instead of just taking big agri-business at their word

                                          You’re not arguing in good faith if you’re going to stick to this point that I’ve already refuted. GMOs are already well-regulated (just as much as any other food products, at any rate).

                                          GMOs is the conventional methodology. All it's doing is intensifying the present system. Going that way instead of exploring other, less centralized production systems is where future food issues.

                                          I don’t see why GMOs can’t be used in your ideal food production systems just as effectively as they are used by Big-Ag farms.

                                          You seem to be under this impression that if we don't have modified crops with all the wrong priorities underlying their development, then we will never learn how to do genetic engineering.

                                          Quite the opposite—we already know how to do genetic engineering. We just need to engineer the right organisms with the right properties. I’m worried that the Monsanto’s or the He Jiankuis of the world, with their shitty practices, will poison the idea of GMOs, and bring us to a dark age where governments decide to ban genetic engineering out of fear and ignorance. You’re dismissing genetic engineering because of how it has been used to maximize profits with bad side effects. I’m saying, if we dismiss it for bad reasons, it may bite us when we can’t breed or hybridize the traits necessary in the future.

                                          The risks and problems of monoculture are inherent to how GMOs work.

                                          Experts don’t agree.

                                          You can't blame people for standing athwart them yelling "stop" if the people pushing for it are so intent on charging ahead with no respect or regard for any stake holders other than giant agribusiness.

                                          I do blame them because they are yelling "stop" when they should be yelling "take a different route".

                                          1 vote
                                          1. [4]
                                            NaraVara Link Parent
                                            What? I pointed out that your refutation was nothing of the sort already. Sure they can be. But they won't be. So why all the arguments against the anti-GMO folks instead of arguments for better...

                                            You’re not arguing in good faith if you’re going to stick to this point that I’ve already refuted.

                                            What? I pointed out that your refutation was nothing of the sort already.

                                            I don’t see why GMOs can’t be used in your ideal food production systems just as effectively as they are used by Big-Ag farms.

                                            Sure they can be. But they won't be. So why all the arguments against the anti-GMO folks instead of arguments for better regulation of it?

                                            will poison the idea of GMOs, and bring us to a dark age where governments decide to ban genetic engineering out of fear and ignorance. Y

                                            Is it out of "fear and ignorance" if it's in response to an actual problem? That's not ignorance, that's well founded, evidence based policy. It's just policy that prioritizes values other than scientism for its own sake.

                                            Experts don’t agree.

                                            First of all, if I'm already iffy on the prospect of GMOs, linking to GeneticLiteracyProject.com is probably not going to bring me around.

                                            Secondly, this entire article is a massive tu quoque fallacy. Yes. Modern agricultural systems do have major problems with monoculture. I already addressed this in my main argument that GMOs exacerbate almost all the problems that our current agricultural system has rather than solving them.

                                            I do blame them because they are yelling "stop" when they should be yelling "take a different route".

                                            I don't think it should be the responsibility of the victims to figure out how to not be victimized. Maybe the profiteers should make a sacrifice for a change instead of dismissing dissenters out of hand because they have all the money and power to back them up?

                                            1 vote
                                            1. [3]
                                              onyxleopard Link Parent
                                              So you’re a fortune teller now? What stocks should I invest in? No, you claimed that monocultures are an inherent problem of GMOs. If you’re going to change the goalposts I’m done treating your...

                                              Sure they can be. But they won't be.

                                              So you’re a fortune teller now? What stocks should I invest in?

                                              I already addressed this in my main argument that GMOs exacerbate almost all the problems that our current agricultural system has rather than solving them.

                                              No, you claimed that monocultures are an inherent problem of GMOs. If you’re going to change the goalposts I’m done treating your argumentation as good faith. Monocultures are not good, but they predate GMOs and it’s not an inherent problem to genetic engineering.

                                              First of all, if I'm already iffy on the prospect of GMOs, linking to GeneticLiteracyProject.com is probably not going to bring me around.

                                              You can reject expert opinions if you want, but again, you’re not acting in good faith if you won’t consider the propositions
                                              themselves and merely reject the source out of hand.

                                              Maybe the profiteers should make a sacrifice for a change instead of dismissing dissenters out of hand because they have all the money and power to back them up?

                                              You’re not a victim of Big-Ag. Please spare me that kind of hyperbole. You seem to have made up your mind, so I’m not sure why you bothered to engage in a discussion at all. Your problem is clearly with agricultural practices and you seem incapable of separating the industry from the technology. I’m sorry I engaged.

                                              1. [2]
                                                cfabbro Link Parent
                                                IMO it's pretty clear you and @NaraVara are getting absolutely nowhere with this argument and it's getting rather personal now. Perhaps you both should step away before either of you says...

                                                IMO it's pretty clear you and @NaraVara are getting absolutely nowhere with this argument and it's getting rather personal now. Perhaps you both should step away before either of you says something you will regret?

                                                2 votes
                                                1. onyxleopard Link Parent
                                                  It’s not personal to me, I’m just dumbfounded that it took me so long to realize I was talking past them. I’m done engaging.

                                                  It’s not personal to me, I’m just dumbfounded that it took me so long to realize I was talking past them. I’m done engaging.

    2. [2]
      alyaza Link Parent
      i'm going to guess that the main reason that full automation is the path implied here and not partial automation or work which is enhanced by automated tasks is because of the legal status of most...

      i'm going to guess that the main reason that full automation is the path implied here and not partial automation or work which is enhanced by automated tasks is because of the legal status of most of the people who do this work. it's a bit of an open secret that most of the non-farming agriculture industry is propped up by migrant workers who don't have the necessary documentation to legally work in america, and that cracking down on those workers without a replacement creates massive labor shortages (as infamously occurred with Georgia HB87). automating it all successfully would presumably get rid of the ambiguous, illegal-but-we'll-look-the-other-way labor situation that a lot of these companies rely on partially or wholly while ensuring they don't have a labor shortage or become financially unstable, and i'm sure plenty of companies would like that since i'm pretty sure the government is supposed to fucking blast you financially for that sort of thing.

      3 votes
      1. NaraVara Link Parent
        That's kind of what I was implying when I talked about how if we just liked Mexicans more we'd have probably gone in a different direction with this. The weird legal complexity around this labor...

        i'm going to guess that the main reason that full automation is the path implied here and not partial automation or work which is enhanced by automated tasks is because of the legal status of most of the people who do this work.

        That's kind of what I was implying when I talked about how if we just liked Mexicans more we'd have probably gone in a different direction with this. The weird legal complexity around this labor market is based entirely around our racism against Hispanic people and general class antipathy towards manual laborers. Things would be a lot simpler if people were just content to let people live their lives.

        3 votes
    3. [6]
      Sahasrahla Link Parent
      I assume farm owners are pushing for automation instead of robot assisted workers because they think it will be more profitable; if the latter were easier and a surer bet they'd try for that. In...

      I assume farm owners are pushing for automation instead of robot assisted workers because they think it will be more profitable; if the latter were easier and a surer bet they'd try for that. In terms of what's better for the workers themselves, labour such as strawberry picking is fundamentally bad: it exerts a harsh physical toll, it only provides a seasonal income, and though wages could be fairer there's not necessarily room for them to expand into something resembling good pay. Those jobs will never be good and if people don't have to do them then we'll all be better off.

      The problem with automation here, though, is the problem with automation everywhere: how can people who lose their jobs support themselves? Different solutions have been proposed (which is a whole other topic) but one solution that I think is particularly bad is that we should prevent automation so that people can keep doing jobs they're not strictly needed for anymore. To me that seems like we'll have given up as a society and decided that people must justify their existence by doing jobs that could be more efficiently done by machines. Automation of horrible jobs should be something we celebrate but to get there we'll need to find better ways of supporting each other. A cynic might argue that we'll never do that but even the most self-interested politicians and billionaires will realize that mass unemployment and poverty will eventually threaten them as well; after all, the modern welfare state was created when Bismarck was trying to stave off social unrest in 19th century Prussia.

      2 votes
      1. [5]
        NaraVara (edited ) Link Parent
        Maybe, but I'm not sure farm owners are actually knowledgable enough about robotics to really be able to make that assessment. Maybe it could be profitable at big agribusiness scale, but I doubt...

        I assume farm owners are pushing for automation instead of robot assisted workers because they think it will be more profitable; if the latter were easier and a surer bet they'd try for that.

        Maybe, but I'm not sure farm owners are actually knowledgable enough about robotics to really be able to make that assessment. Maybe it could be profitable at big agribusiness scale, but I doubt small or independent farmers will ever be able to make it work.

        I notice this with a lot of the enthusiasm around self-driving cars too where people just kind of assume robots are free, so they get stars in their eyes thinking about all the payroll they save by getting rid of labor but neglect to consider operational and logistical constraints, initial capital costs, depreciation costs, maintenance, etc.

        Once the surly realities of having corporeal form kicks in suddenly the dreams get less rosy. In the 50s and 60s city planners decided the cheapness of automobiles meant we didn't need transit anymore and everyone would have a car. Then it turns out, now that everyone has a car traffic is horrible and there are giant ecological and sociological downsides. Oops! Futurist fantasies tend to fixate on very obvious first order effects and not put much thought into details like whether the accounting makes sense or how practical it is or what the second or third order effects might be.

        labour such as strawberry picking is fundamentally bad: it exerts a harsh physical toll, it only provides a seasonal income, and though wages could be fairer there's not necessarily room for them to expand into something resembling good pay.

        That's the idea though isn't it? Technology could be used to make the labor less fundamentally bad. We'd have said the same thing about working in a factory at the turn of the century, but it's so much better now because we've prioritized workman's comp. and safety standards. Even sweatshops in poorly regulated countries are better today than a standard factory job was back then, largely because the machinery and processes have gotten better and the specifically dangerous or fault-prone parts of the job have been automated.

        To me that seems like we'll have given up as a society and decided that people must justify their existence by doing jobs that could be more efficiently done by machines.

        So far it doesn't seem like this job is more efficiently done by machines. That's kind of the problem. People are trying to shoehorn machines into the process because they don't want to have to treat humans doing it with dignity. I don't think you're going to wind up with a more a dignified existence for all as a byproduct of processes intended, specifically, to spare people the burden of having to care about the dignity of others. These goals are at cross-purposes.

        Honestly some amount of dirty work is always going to need to get done. Even when we automate away the worst of it, our standards for what counts as "fundamentally" bad will simply readjust to the new scale. The way off of this hedonic treadmill is to treat the people doing the dirty or unpleasant jobs with respect and the means to have a dignified life by prioritizing their physical safety and financial security.

        2 votes
        1. [4]
          cfabbro (edited ) Link Parent
          I think you would be surprised by just how techsavvy and comfortable with automation most independent farmers are these days. The right to repair movement originated with independent farmers and...

          I'm not sure farm owners are actually knowledgable enough about robotics to really be able to make that assessment

          I think you would be surprised by just how techsavvy and comfortable with automation most independent farmers are these days. The right to repair movement originated with independent farmers and they are still amongst its strongest proponents, and farming these days already has an insane amount of automation and complicated technology involved in it (e.g. GPS enabled fully-automated tractors and combines are rather common). See: this Vice video.

          Also worth keeping in mind is that independent farmers are getting rarer by the year:

          And between 1987 and 2012, the percentage of all U.S. cropland on farms with at least 2,000 acres more than doubled, from 15 percent to 36 percent. -Source

          And the agricultural corporations behind that farmland consolidation are far from ignorant about automation and its benefits.

          3 votes
          1. [3]
            NaraVara Link Parent
            It's not about being tech savvy, it's about knowing the accounting and logistical issues around operationalized use of robotics. I don't even think most robotics researchers are all that knowledge...

            I think you would be surprised by just how techsavvy and comfortable with automation most independent farmers are these days.

            It's not about being tech savvy, it's about knowing the accounting and logistical issues around operationalized use of robotics. I don't even think most robotics researchers are all that knowledge about how that will shake out.

            1. [2]
              cfabbro (edited ) Link Parent
              As with most technological innovations, the early adopters will likely just be the large corporations, since they can afford the increased risks, high initial price of the technology and have...

              As with most technological innovations, the early adopters will likely just be the large corporations, since they can afford the increased risks, high initial price of the technology and have logistical capabilities already in place. But once economy of scale kicks in, causing prices fall on the products, and the logistical/maintenance end gets sorted out (likely provided by the manufacturers themselves as a service), then the only thing the farmers would need to determine is ultimately if the cost associated with switching from migrant labourers to robots would result in a net profit in the long run. Which is no different than when they had to decide if the next tractor or combine they bought should be one of the newer automated ones or not. Hint: The majority of new tractors and combines are automated. ;)

              Honestly, I think robotic labourers (in not just farming but most manual labour roles) is inevitable and you are vastly underestimating the economic incentive for that to become reality. Just check out the latest Boston Dynamics videos [1], [2], [3] if you want to see what the future will look like, IMO. And to a large extent it's already happening... [2]

              3 votes
              1. NaraVara Link Parent
                I very much doubt you're going to see big efficiency gains from automation on a small scale. There is a lot of overhead and infrastructure cost that goes into maintaining purpose built robots....

                As with most technological innovations, the early adopters will likely just be the large corporations, since they can afford the increased risks, high initial price of the technology and have logistical capabilities already in place.

                I very much doubt you're going to see big efficiency gains from automation on a small scale. There is a lot of overhead and infrastructure cost that goes into maintaining purpose built robots. It's not going to be like buying a car or tractor. These machines generally have to be networked and need a ton of support staff to get to the critical mass where it makes sense to include them.

                It's exactly like how the expansion of IT has led to centralization and consolidation. The logistical complexity of large scale IT allows big players to realize massive returns to their logistical capacity. Small businesses just can't get enough kinds of expertise under one roof to be able to deploy stuff like that and still have it be profitable for them. This isn't going to be a tide that lifts all boats, it's going to drown most of them.

                1 vote
  2. Rez Link
    Fruit picking is one of the first jobs I'd pick to automate among existing, widespread jobs. At the end of the day, there's a lot of aspects inherent to the job that make it an unpleasant one....

    Fruit picking is one of the first jobs I'd pick to automate among existing, widespread jobs. At the end of the day, there's a lot of aspects inherent to the job that make it an unpleasant one. There's a reason that Americans, who are less desperate than migrant workers and have increased access to other employment, don't pick up these jobs even when it can pay $20/hr.

    These negative aspects can be improved, but largely not eliminated. As a fruit picker you have a job with work that is:

    • Primarily in remote areas, requiring long commutes or living on-site

    • Done outside all day, with exposure not only to the elements but nature (bugs, bites, dirt, etc.)

    • Work that exposes you to pesticides and in the cases where those pesticides are inadequate, rotting food

    • Physically demanding work that requires constant, precise, repetitive movement

    • Work that is seasonal in nature, requiring you to regularly migrate to find alternative work if there is no other job available in the (likely remote) area that you can work for the remainder of the year on an annual basis

    The government should be a primary funding force for it as well instead of leaving it to the farmers to band together and fund. The government has largely turned a blind eye towards the quasi-legal or illegal status of many agricultural workers, but with changing flows in immigration (both because of American policy and changing economic situations in Central America), that system no longer seems sustainable for the agricultural industry. Since Americans won't work the jobs due to better opportunities, then the crop in question either becomes supply restricted by the market, dampening our economic output, or it starts being primarily grown internationally, which can result in us losing expertise and the benefits of scale, making regaining dominance in the market that much more difficult if the labor situation becomes more favorable in the future.

    4 votes