• “I have never been to a seminar, where the discussion goes
    so deep around common industry challenges”
    Sten Estrup, Executive Vice President Christian Hansen, 2016

  • “An enormous learning experience”
    Gerald Wilfingseder, General Manager Gold Coin Group, 2016

  • “Excellent content, facilitation and format – outstanding”
    Tim Hart, CEO Ridley Corporation, 2016

  • “Tremendous opportunity to share experiences and perspectives”
    Simon Cheng, Managing Director BRF, 2016

  • “Thank you for the seminar, so much learning”
    Akiko Seyoum, CEO Orchid Business Group, 2016

  • “Much beyond my expectations – I will surely return”
    Gustavo Grobocopatel, Chairman Los Grobo, 2013

  • “Rich, useful, time extremely well invested”
    Stefano Vlahovic, CEO Produkti Pitania, 2011

  • “This is for people who want to get things done.”
    Hans Roelofs, CEO Refresco, 2009

  • “I have not been to an event yet where we got into the real issues so deep so fast.”
    Lennart Holm, CEO Perstorp, 2007

  • “There has not been one case that did not inspire me.”
    Wout Dekker, CEO Nutreco 2007

  • “Excellent. We should have had such a seminar much earlier”
    Hugh Grant, CEO Monsanto 2005

  • “It has been an inspiration, very well done, an audience of 50 likeminded peers that really ask relevant questions and it has helped me accelerate my thinking”
    Christoffer Lorenzen, EVP Chr. Hansen, 2017

  • “I did numerous studies, maybe hundreds of Harvard cases but this was one of the best I’ve ever read”
    Markus Länzlinger, CEO Migrolino, 2017

  • “Really enjoyed the seminar, very good cases, very good interactions, very practical, very lively and high-speed”
    Jeroen Wakkermann, CFO Nutreco, 2017

New Horizons with Genomics
and Artificial Intelligence
and Demanding Ethical Choices

Executive Summary – The Future of Food and Agribusiness 2027

This report considers four technology areas of relevance for the next 10-year horizon of the global food and agribusiness industry. These four technology areas experienced implementation breakthroughs in the course of 2016, and will therefore shape and influence business through the next ten year horizons.

All four technology areas have in recent years shown performance improvements by a factor of ten every two to three years. If this rate continues – and given enough demand, it probably will – each of these technologies could be at least 1000 times more potent in 2027 than today. For instance, a product related to these technologies that today costs USD 1000 per unit might cost only USD 1 in ten years. A computation that today takes one day to complete, might take only 90 seconds. A health benefit that costs USD 100,000 to achieve today, might only cost USD 100, and a particular medical procedure of today could be 1000 times more effective in ten years. The potential factor of 1000x performance improvement in only ten years creates unpredictable dynamics for the deployment of these technologies and their impact on business models.

At the same time, each of these four technology areas raises profound ethical questions, for which political and legal answers must be found. Denial of such answers might delay the further implementation of such technologies, but they are unlikely to prevent them. Delays would reduce the potential benefits of these technologies to the health and well-being of the global population, to the environmental sustainability of food and agribusiness industries, and to opportunities which food and agribusiness companies have for growth and investment.

The four technology areas are

  1. Genomics / genetics: low cost and common availability of individual genomic DNA sequencing, in addition to replacement of natural DNA with synthetic DNA,
  2. Software / data analytics: ubiquity of artificial intelligence computing,
  3. Machinery: autonomous machinery for real-time data analysis and last-mile product delivery,
  4. Social engineering: data-driven digital communication methods deliberately forming public opinion.

The fourth technology area is particularly important because of the far-reaching ethical and political dimensions of the first three technology areas. Ultimately it will be up to the choice and acceptance of the end consumers to what extent genomic sequencing, synthesised genetics, artificial intelligence, and autonomous machinery technologies will be developed and implemented. Modern computational and communication methods are available which can influence or even create these political choices in society. These methods are available to private businesses as much as public institutions. This represents an ethical question in itself, but does not change the core of the challenge: in whose interest and for whose benefit will these technologies be implemented? Who is making these choices?

This report asks nine questions that are related to these four technology areas and seeks answers for the global food & agribusiness industry:

1. Ideally, global Food & Ag industry needs to triple or quadruple its overall effectiveness in the three decades until 2050. What does this mean for technology development? The four arguments for this question are: 1) food production needs to double in the light of on-going population growth and rising demand for higher quality food, 2) at the same time the availability of the core resources of land, water and energy may shrink, so that 3) productivity needs to triple or quadruple over the next three decades. This means 4) that technology deployment in the food and agribusiness industries will have to run at twice the speed and magnitude of the average economy. (see page 6)

2. Predictions in the past have been famously wrong. Which technologies can deliver the required productivity advances? Predictions focussed on whether and when technologies will reach a confluence point, at which complementary industry supply chains, regulatory and legal frameworks and ethical approval by society are synchronized, have turned out to be advanced guessing. Instead, we should analyze the drivers of change, the motives of innovators and their institutions. When these drivers and motives reach confluence, then technologies can spread exponentially. However, exponential thought is difficult for human beings, since we think primarily in linear extrapolation. Therefore we usually get the timing wrong by anticipating a technology change too early, and once the technology has arrived, we get the pace wrong by perceiving the technology change to be too slow. (see page 8)

3. Genomics have improved by a factor of 10 every two to three years for the last ten years. How will this be relevant to Food & Ag? Between the years 2007 and 2016 the cost of a human genome sequence fell from USD 10 million to USD 1000. Applying the same performance improvement rate until 2027 means that an individual genomic sequence will only cost a dime, USD 0.10, before becoming a service free of charge. Whether this development will unfold depends on whether enough consumers and companies find the information of an individual DNA genome valuable enough for them to be profiled and use this knowledge for their nutrition and health choices. This depends on how valuable their health and well-being is to them or to others. (see page 10)

4. Synthetic DNA is a new technology frontier. Which ethical frontiers will be allowed for synthetic DNA design in food & ag applications? By the end of 2017, a group of researchers expects to have a copy of a yeast genome made entirely out of synthetically created DNA. The same research group wants to finish a synthetic DNA sequence also for human beings, animals and plants within ten years. Already today, genomic sciences have come to the point of being able to routinely clone mammalian animals, to prevent some genetic disorders in humans, and to create sperm and egg cells from skin. So the world is standing on the verge of being able to design a living organism according to specific wishes, including for instance resurrecting extinct species. Will ethics allow this at all? Will it allow this for plants only, for animals only – can it be prevented for humans even if it is not allowed? The technology is progressing fast, the discussion of its ethics is lagging far behind. Which zoo will showcase the first resurrected mammoth? Is species extinction a problem if we can resurrect them at any time. (see page 13)

5. Artificial intelligence surpassed human intelligence in 2016. What are the implications? Human intelligence is structured in many different kinds of intelligence, including emotional intelligence, sensor and motion intelligence, communication intelligence and several more. One of those types of intelligence concern the ability to reason and strategize, and to deploy logic and mathematics. In this one capacity, AI software programs evidently overtook human intelligence in the year 2016. AI machines are able to learn by themselves in a rational and strategizing way, and do so much faster than human beings. Besides beating human beings in strategy games such as chess, Go and FreeCiv in 2016 – and poker in 2017 – AI software has already begun to replace high-level, human expert jobs such as in IT-maintenance, legal research, insurance claim processing, advertising campaign design, MRI image analysis, cancer diagnosis, pharmaceutical compound research, music composition, and the creation of motion pictures. In each of these cases, AI has already proven to be more effective, more precise, and cheaper than corresponding human experts. This is as per 2016. In 2027, these machines will be at least 1000x more performant compared to today, while human beings remain the same. (see page 16)

6. Artificial intelligence will reconfigure the food and agribusiness value chain. Who in the food system will benefit most? Replacing human expert jobs with AI software machines is ultimately a simple cost-saving measure. It will happen in the same way that machines have taken over other work that human beings did before. The more relevant question is, how AI will change the business models in an industry. The answer depends on who takes the lead in using AI instruments to extract value from the value chain by having a knowledge and analysis advantage. The default setting is that it will be the Frightful Five companies (as they were called by the New York Times: Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook) who take that lead. The incumbent companies in food and agribusiness can still beat these five data giants to maintain their position, if they begin to build their own data and AI competences. The race is on. (see page 20)

7. Artificial intelligence accelerates the creation and distribution of knowledge. How can this cause another agricultural revolution? Productivity of agricultural production in Africa and Asia is low. While there are multiple interlocking reasons for this, the primary core reason is lack of specifically useful local knowledge. The application of artificial intelligence tools that are accessible through smartphones might bridge this knowledge gap within the coming years, and thus trigger an agricultural revolution in these countries. (see page 24)

8. Our personal environment is becoming digitally integrated. Will the use case for an intelligent fridge finally arrive? The arrival of the intelligent household computer which can support the daily chore of providing healthy foods for the family within the limits of a budget and taste preferences – and which can even help by self-ordering food in order to spare the trip to a super market – was predicted already decades before the internet arrived. So far, consumers have shown no appreciation for such a device. Nonetheless, the aforementioned technologies of artificial intelligence and genomic sequencing may improve the value proposition of such a device in terms of ease of use, cost and quality by several magnitudes. What we can expect is a growing and widespread acceptance for integrated systems supporting the continuous improvement of people’s health status. Those personal and digital assistants will raise the need of connected household items. This may finally tip the scale within the next ten years towards widespread adoption. If it happens, then we expect adoption rates similar to the spread of the smartphone (see page 26)

9. Our personal belief is becoming a commercial good. How will we create value with these technologies? Many of the above questions entail difficult ethical choices in society. These ethical choices will become manifest in political, legal and regulatory decisions. Big data and artificial intelligence analysis have also made far-reaching advances in understanding how societies function and reach public decisions. These learnings are increasingly captured in mathematical models with considerable accuracy. This raises the question of whether the ethical decisions that are required for the implementation of the above mentioned technologies can be created as an investment – and who might buy them or invest them, and for what purpose. In an environment where the performance of some particular technologies can improve by a factor of 1000x in just ten years, both the speed and the extent of technological development calls for urgent action. Three fields of action can be recommended:

a) Begin to integrate applications of artificial intelligence inside your company. There is a learning curve in managing and understanding this technology. There is also a learning curve in your future AI work force. The sooner your new AI colleagues (ie software machines) learn about your company and your business, the better decisions these AI colleagues will make, and the more they will contribute to the competitiveness of your business. If your business is a top-notch hospital or a top-ranked law firm, then your competitiveness already depends in the year 2017 on having those AI colleagues integrated firmly in your work force. Within a short period, this will become true for almost every company, especially in food and agribusiness industries.

b) Consider among all your stakeholders in the company the wide-ranging ethical implications of the genomic, genetic, artificial intelligence and autonomous machinery technologies and develop a well-reasoned ethical stance toward them. The ethical dimensions of these technologies are likely to be as decisive as the technical dimensions regarding the implementation and development options. At some point, your company will need to justify itself towards your stakeholders for any extent of either using or not using these technologies. These stakeholders comprise your employees, your suppliers, your direct customers, your end consumers, the communities in which your business operates, and your shareholders. It will be helpful to prepare your company’s ethical position on these technologies before a severe conflict arrives. We conducted a survey among the 34 senior Food&Ag decision-makers, and learned that they believe that ethical legitimacy will determine 30% of the value creation, up from 15% ten years ago, and 24% today.

c) Invest in the change capacity of your company. It is not necessary to be able to outrun the lion that is chasing after you. You only need to be faster than the competitor next to you. (see page 29)