Sunday, March 02, 2008

the long, slow tipping point, or boiling frogs

It's said that if you raise the temperature slowly enough you can boil a frog alive and it will never jump out of the pot. True or not, it illustrates the idea of changes that happen so gradually we scarcely realize they're happening and may fail to recognize when the accumulated change adds up to something qualitatively different.

In the context of agriculture and the potential for applying robotic technology to its improvement, this principle applies at least two ways.

The first of these, because it is happening regardless of anything else, is how agriculture has been changing over recent decades, and how the human culture of farming, rural society and the rural landscape, the robustness or fragility of the crops themselves, soil fertility, and biodiversity have changed as a result.

This is something of a mixed bag. For example, on the one hand you have a proliferation of poisonous substances used to control various pest species, but on the other you have the growing popularity of Integrated Pest Management, which uses them sparingly. And while some of the practices which became ubiquitous in the wake of the dust bowl have since become less common, the rising cost of fuel works in favor of lighter tillage, leaving some stubble, which helps control erosion.

Nevertheless, this situation looks rather bleak overall, particularly given the heavy dependence of agriculture on fuel and other products derived from petroleum, and a comparison between ourselves and the frog in the gradually warming water is a bit too apropos.

The other way in which the slow accumulation of change applies is in the development of the various tools and technologies needed for robotics in general to flourish. The array of what's available for use is already good and getting better, if not quite rapidly then at least inexorably, and the more complete the toolkit the more applications become economically feasible, further accelerating the pace of development. At some point that logic is bound to take hold, powerfully and irreversibly, if not this year then maybe next year, or the year after, or maybe it's already begun and just happening slowly enough that it's hard to see.

Here too the boiling frog applies, in that the robotics industry could flourish without contributing anything significant to the improvement of agriculture. It could simply fail to live up to that particular potential, there being no shortage of other, more clearly profitable potentials to be chased after, and plenty of encouragement from DARPA with regard to military applications.

Here we are in the pot, with the general state of agriculture growing ever more tenuous and the industry with the power to transform that situation taking no notice, much less recognizing its all-important role.


Stephen Tvedten said...

How to kill pests without killing yourself or the earth......

There are about 50 to 60 million insect species on earth - we have named only about 1 million and there are only about 1 thousand pest species - already over 50% of these thousand pests are already resistant to our volatile, dangerous, synthetic pesticide POISONS. We accidentally lose about 25,000 to 100,000 species of insects, plants and animals every year due to "man's footprint". But, after poisoning the entire world and contaminating every living thing for over 60 years with these dangerous and ineffective pesticide POISONS we have not even controlled much less eliminated even one pest species and every year we use/misuse more and more pesticide POISONS to try to "keep up"! Even with all of this expensive and unnecessary pollution - we lose more and more crops and lives to these thousand pests every year.

We are losing the war against these thousand pests mainly because we insist on using only synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers There has been a severe "knowledge drought" - a worldwide decline in agricultural R&D, especially in production research and safe, more effective pest control since the advent of synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers. Today we are like lemmings running to the sea insisting that is the "right way". The greatest challenge facing humanity this century is the necessity for us to double our global food production with less land, less water, less nutrients, less science, frequent droughts, more and more contamination and ever-increasing pest damage.

National Poison Prevention Week, March 18-24,2007 was created to highlight the dangers of poisoning and how to prevent it. One study shows that about 70,000 children in the USA were involved in common household pesticide-related (acute) poisonings or exposures in 2004. At least two peer-reviewed studies have described associations between autism rates and pesticides (D'Amelio et al 2005; Roberts EM et al 2007 in EHP). It is estimated that 300,000 farm workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning each year just in the United States - No one is checking chronic contamination.
In order to try to help "stem the tide", I have just finished re-writing my IPM encyclopedia entitled: THE BEST CONTROL II, that contains over 2,800 safe and far more effective alternatives to pesticide POISONS. This latest copyrighted work is about 1,800 pages in length and is now being updated at my new website at .

This new website at has been basically updated; all we have left to update is Chapter 39 and to renumber the pages. All of these copyrighted items are free for you to read and/or download. There is simply no need to POISON yourself or your family or to have any pest problems.

Stephen L. Tvedten
2530 Hayes Street
Marne, Michigan 49435
"An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come." --Victor Hugo

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

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