Wednesday, March 4, 2009

They'll Have Nothing To Lose But Their Chaindrives (Invention Idea #5)

Why do I have to have a job? There are basically four reasons: Food, shelter, medical care and luxuries.

Those are listed in rough order of importance. Theoretically an order-of-importance list is also an order-of-most-money-spent list but that's probably not literally true. However, from the point of view of reducing costs, it kind of is. $500 that I must spend on food is a tougher nut to a short budget than $2000 that I throw away on bingo. Put another way: Say I wanted to stop working. What's the first problem I absolutely must solve? It isn't "where am I gonna get my $2000 of bingo money". It's "how do I eat".

So how would I eat? One common solution is to start your own business. But that's still a job, albeit one where you are the boss. I'm imagining a socialist utopia where nobody would have to do any work at all. We'd just recline on chaise lounges all day.

I could grow my own food in my yard. That's still a lot of work, though. Planting, weeding, chasing away predators, harvesting, processing, etc. However, this is all repetitive, physical work, which is perfect for whom? Robots!

The first thing you need is a big field. (You could do this in your yard, but for reasons of efficiency and scale, farm-like installations are probably better.). Enclose the entire thing in glass (height determined by the crop) to make it a greenhouse. This also excludes many, but not all, bugs, animals and weedseeds.

Install some sprinklers. You'll be using a lot less water than usual for two reasons. One is that because the field is enclosed it will lose less to evaporation from the ground or respiration from the plants. The other is that you can collect any runoff and reuse it. (Why don't they already do this? Maybe it seeps down to the groundwater first? Perhaps my field should be enclosed on the bottom, too.)

Send in the seedbots to do the planting. Seeds and the planting thereof are relatively uniform, so this is a general robot. We may need to bury guide cables underground that will indicate to the robot where the rows will be. However, optical guides, GPS or other technologies could also be used.

All of this, btw, is controlled by computer. It could either be a hulking 1950s-style centralized FARMIVAC thing or an ultra-modern distributed intelligence ant-model thing. For instance the seedbots detect that it's planting time, the sprinklers detect moisture levels, etc and everything Just Works kind of like a natural ecosystem.

Now is the somewhat harder, more nebulous part of my vision. Each growing plant species needs different care. Some might have to be checked for mold, some might need petting or to be sung to or whatever. And they are all harvested differently. You can just cut down cornstalks but you have to pick apples. All this variation means different robot types. That said, this isn't an insoluble problem.

Another option is trained monkeys.

(I googled around for a bit and found some talk about robot or automated farming, but there didn't seem to be any cohesive vision or big plans. In all seriousness, it seems like this is a major lack. Growing food is an absolutely necessary, but peasant-level job. Until robots do it, peasants will remain.)


  1. This way you don't have to farm, you just have to repair your farm robots. I imagine it's robots all the way down, though, right?

    People in the 1700s had this. Their robots were made of meat.

  2. I actually had not considered repair. It could be robots all the way down. Or cheap, replaceable ones.

    Or if we made the robots out of organic material, they could just decompose and new ones would be "hatched". (This idea is more or less identical to the trained monkey one.)

  3. asimov has plenty of stories of robots do everything but diagnose the problems with the robots.

    It may be time for me to reread those.

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