Giving Compass' Take:

• Fast Company reports on MIT Media Lab's artificial intelligence shipping container that is growing crops in place of outdoor farms that are consistently being affected by climate change. 

• How could this change the industry for farmers? How can philanthropists be involved in contributing to AI systems that help produce more crops? 

• Read about other innovation in agriculture like the robot that picks and sorts crops for farmers. 

Inside a shipping container-sized box at MIT Media Lab, crops of basil are growing in micro-climates designed by artificial intelligence.

As climate change makes it more difficult to grow crops in outdoor farms because of heat waves, more frequent storms, and more pests and disease, the researchers envision that climate-controlled, tech-filled greenhouses (which they call “food computers”) could be an increasingly useful place to grow food. The technology could also eliminate food miles: Instead of shipping avocados from Mexico to China, a Chinese greenhouse could precisely recreate a Mexican climate in Beijing–or tweak it to create a climate even better for an avocado tree.

Researchers at the Media Lab first developed a prototype of what they call the OpenAg Personal Food Computer in 2015. The contained growing environment, packed with sensors, actuators, and machine vision, can study and then replicate optimal growing conditions for food, changing everything from the pattern and spectrum of light used to the salinity of water and the nutrients added.

The basil is grown in staggered batches, so the AI can use the data from each batch to suggest changes to the 'climate recipe' for the next crop before the first crop is finished growing, increasing the experimental throughput.

For fledgling indoor farming companies, the open-source climate recipes could help farmers grow better tasting, more productive, more efficient crops.

The research could also lead to tastier, more sustainably grown food, created without the type of genetic modification that some consumers find objectionable.

“Ultimately, this is non-GMO GMO,” says Hodjat. “You’re not messing with the plant’s DNA . . . you’re just allowing it exhibit behavior that it would in nature should that kind of environment exist.

Read the full article about artificial intelligence for crops by Adele Peters at Fast Company