The Future of Agriculture is Computerized

The Future of Agriculture is Computerized

Ulrika Mann

Ulrika Mann,

Get used to cyber agriculture. In a recent MIT and Cognizant project, information from a basil plant experiment was fed into machine-learning algorithms. The result? Best-tasting basil every, without genetic modification, and the sharing of meaningful agricultural data.

Researchers in the Media Lab’s Open Agriculture Initiative report that they have created basil plants that are likely more delicious than any you have ever tasted. No genetic modification is involved: The researchers used computer algorithms to determine the optimal growing conditions to maximize the concentration of flavorful molecules known as volatile compounds.

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Located in a warehouse at the MIT-Bates Laboratory in Middleton, Massachusetts, the OpenAg plants are grown in shipping containers that have been retrofitted so that environmental conditions, including light, temperature, and humidity, can be carefully controlled. All of the information from the plant experiments was then fed into machine-learning algorithms that the MIT and Cognizant (formerly Sentient Technologies) teams developed. The algorithms evaluated millions of possible combinations of light and UV duration, and generated sets of conditions that would maximize flavor, including the 24-hour daylight regime. 

Moving beyond flavor, the researchers are now working on developing basil plants with higher levels of compounds that could help to combat diseases such as diabetes. What's more, the experiment also aims at encouraging networked science, where open-source, available data and data sharing are key compenents in the agricultural space (and elsewhere) to do networked science together.

Read more about the experiment here and how cyber agriculture can help us meet climate change. Also visit Cognizants Tech for Good section, where we explore how technology can power the sustainability transition.