Hey Reader! Welcome to our series on exponential technology, Exponential Thinking
[This series was originally written in January 2016] The beginning of the year is always a great time for reflection on the past, as well as a good look at where we are today. Those looking to create a better future for themselves use this time of year as the catalyst to make take the actions that will better themselves and others around them. Many of you may be starting diets, taking control of your food by getting into growing your own food, taking care of your body and mind with new workout routines, etc.
Here at Trifecta it’s really been quite a year! We’ve already passed the day when Back to the Future promised us we’d get hoverboards and we did end up getting them… although slightly more explosive than one would hope! That’s right, it is officially The Future.
We are at the start of a period of amazing technology that seems futuristic but stands to change our lives very soon. We look at these emerging technologies and begin thinking them within the context of aquaponics and a food secure future.
Aquaponics as a technology and as a symbol of the food industry is an exponential technology. It is a very, very old technology, so it can be hard to tell. The story of aquaponics is really the story of food, and the story of food is the true story of humanity because it is the story of our shared evolution with all life on our planet.
I felt it was appropriate to explore this story as we cross the threshold of the new year. I intend to demonstrate to you how we are all standing at the base of a massive exponential explosion in food productivity that will fundamentally improve our relationship with food forever. We are at the dawn of the new age, the fruit of the seed planted by our first farming ancestors over 15,000 years ago.
In the next 10-20 years, the fruit of those ancient farmers will sprout seeds of its very own and we will reap an unprecedented increase in production. Even as populations explode, and cities expand and pop up all over the world, we will have more than enough food to go around. In fact, all the new cities that pop up to meet the exploding population will never even need to import any food as their food production systems will be built right into the urban architecture. No, this is not the ramblings of some optimistic hippy scientist. These are all real possibilities, based on long-term trend data and existing technology.
In order to explain exactly why feeding the world sustainably can be A LEGITIMATE REALITY in our lifetime, we will have to examine the root cause of the explosion in production we are looking at. We have to examine the power of exponential growth.
So What is Exponential Growth?
As human beings, exponential growth can be deceptively hard to understand on an intuitive level. We’re just not built to comprehend growth of that magnitude. It defies the logic of our ancient brains, which evolved to measure linear distances and timeframes in our immediate environment. But today, in a world of technology improving at an exponential pace, our original evolutionary programming is having a hard time keeping up.
The hardest part about exponential growth is that when you’re inside of it, it still seems like linear growth. This is because exponential growth is all about decreasing the time between improvements (plateaus), as well as increasing the value of each improvement (climbs). So even when you’re exploding in growth, it still feels like one logical step by step progression.
To make sense of all this, let’s look at a few growth charts.
Linear vs. Exponential Growth
First, let’s look at linear growth.
The Blue Line
That means for every 1 year, we progress in equal proportion to the year we start measuring:
Nice, seems like a fair amount of growth, as they say, any progress is good progress, right?
Lets stack that up against
The Red Line
If we got 10 times better every year from the previous year.
Our blue 1x line is already starting to look pretty whimpy…
If our progress could be 10x, that would be amazing!
Now let’s turn things up: 50x growth!
The Orange Line
This chart shows 10 years of growth where we get 50x better every year
This quickly dwarfs our previous growth lines, which seemed so reasonable at the time.
Now Let’s add in the Exponential Curve
The Green Line
Exponential growth seems deceptively slow at first, but by year 9 we see the power of exponential growth take off, eclipsing even the impressive 50x growth
This chart shows 12 years…This is only two years later
Look at the pace of exponential growth skyrocketing, leaving even the titanic 50x growth in the dust!
This is why exponential growth is so incredibly powerful. By year 15, even 50x growth is totally indistinguishable from the baseline of 0.
Planning for Reality – The S-Curve and Recursive Growth
Of course, these curves are idealized. In real life, we have cycles that occur in the short term that play out. Cycles are made up of slow periods, plateaus, and spurts of growth, climbs. This is what it looks like when we lay the cyclical periods of plateaus and climbs over our exponential growth curve.
The S-curve is important in exponential growth because the plateaus (slow growth period of the cycle) are way longer in the beginning, and the climbs (fast growth period of the cycle) are way shorter. As we get closer to the explosion point in the exponential growth line, the plateaus are far shorter and the climbs are far greater. This is also known as recursive growth, because each forward step makes the next step easier to accomplish.
Deceptive Growth – Why Did it Take So Long for Exponential Progress to Show Itself?
Humans have been inventing things for over 100,000 years. It is one of the fundamental things that makes us human! So why did it take until just now in the last few hundred years for there to be such huge growth spurts in our technology? In economics, this is known as the deceptive growth phase. Let’s examine closely our exponential growth chart.
The Deceptive Phase is outlined in the rectangle. Remember, the Green Line is the exponential growth curve. Notice the extremely slow incline of the Green Line, trailing the Red Line (10x) until year 7, and under the Yellow Line (50x) until year 9. Unless you are paying attention during these years, it is easy to see how the Green Line could go totally unnoticed until all of a sudden in year 10, when the Green Line is more than double the 50x Yellow Line. Two years after that, the Green Line is over four times the Yellow. You get the idea.
The Deceptive Phase is important in our understanding of exponential aquaponics because of its implications in industry. The deceptive phase means that big business companies ignore technologies that can upset the status quo before they even know the sky is falling. The explosive growth of the Internet disrupted hundreds of industries because it grew deceptively slow at the beginning. Then, all of a sudden, there were no more travel agents, no more CDs, and no need for cable with millions of hours of video content streaming online.
Aquaponics is poised to exit its long deceptive phase and enter its explosive growth stage and disrupt many industries we take for granted, like food production via monocrop farms, cross-country and intercontinental food transport, and processed foods.
Aquaponics and the Exponential Food Industry
Now that we’ve gone through some of the basics on exponential growth vs. linear growth, the S-Curve, and the deceptive growth phase, let’s get into the good stuff. Why am I so convinced we are poised for explosive growth in food production?
Let’s look at the data! An analysis of the long term trends of human food production gives us a fascinating insight into the history of our entire species and our oldest ancestors. This analysis also yields remarkable comparisons to the exponential growth curves we’ve just gone over.
I have crudely split the nuanced history of human agriculture into 5 monumental epochs that each redefined our relationship with food and expanded our ability to provide for ourselves. The story of these epochs is the story of a race of very smart apes having a go at it here on this big scary planet. It is OUR story.
Food 0 – Hunting and Gathering 10,000BC and Older (100,000+ years)
In the early days of our species we were hunters and gatherers, foraging for eggs, seeds and berries and hunting for wild meat. This was the least food secure state humanity has ever faced. The hundreds of thousands of years of this state made a lasting effect on every facet of what it means to be human. Our very DNA is encoded the way it is because of our unknown ancient ancestors. This period lasted so long because with such food insecurity, the human race had a difficult time accumulating knowledge, expanding existing settlements, and other long term activities typically associated with civilizations. This is the looooong beginning of the exponential curve of human progress in the food industry. At this point, we were progressing slower and then as fast as the x=1x progression curve, as in, each new generation knew just about the same amount of stuff as the generation before it.
Food 1.0 – Original Agriculture 15,000BC – 1700AD (13300 years)
The earliest advances beyond this limbo came in the form of agroforestry, or selectively culling a forest environment to remove dangerous plants and promote food-yielding plants. Each family would tend their own garden and slowly cultivate the most favorable plants to their families survival. Then between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago, there was the transition to what is known as the Neolithic period. Humans began to domesticate animals (animal husbandry began with dogs, sheep, and pigs, i.e. Old MacDonald could have been around as early as 9000 BC), cultivate cereal crops like grains, and populations began to swell. Thus began the original transition from Food 0.0 to Food 1.0 and so began the long steady climb to the next transition point. We are still in the long deceptive growth phase, but have began to progress faster than the x=1x progression curve.
Food 2.0 – Industrial Agriculture 1700AD – 1900AD (200 years)
For all human history, farming was a team effort between humanity and the animals we’d domesticated. And this is the sort of team like George Milton and Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men… and we were Lennie.
Then all of a sudden, it was the Industrial Revolution. Humanity seemed to collectively decide to start inventing a ton of really cool stuff all at the same time.
This is really an example of the effect of the exponential returns on forward progress. The further we advance, the easier it becomes to advance even farther. This is called recursive growth, and it is one of the secret underlying reasons why we are living in such an amazing time. We’re living on top of countless generations of recursive growth.
Industrial revolution inventions helped farmers collect seeds, plant seeds, and harvest quicker and easier than ever before. Infrastructure was created to support transportation of food to far off places, which created nationwide markets.
This new technology, in conjunction with the massive advances from bringing crops from the “New World” to the “Old World” created the first global food revolution. Did you know potatoes are originally from the Americas, NOT Ireland?
We continued honing skills like transcontinental food shipping for the next few hundred years. Some of these innovations are growing more popular even today. If you like India Pale Ales, then this is for you: we got the super hoppy IPA style of beer because hops helped British beer stay fresher on the long journey to India!
Food 3.0 – Chemical & Assembly-Line Agriculture 1900AD – ~1990 (~90 years)
We really just transitioned towards Food 3.0, as recently as the early 1900s. Chemical innovations like the Haber Process allowed cheap ammonia to be produced industrially, effectively creating the agricultural chemical industry. The Haber Process created a ton of cheap ammonia, which was converted to nitrogen fertilizer via the natural nitrification process. This is not unlike our aquaponics systems converting ammonia from fish waste into nitrates for the plants with the aid of beneficial bacteria. This huge glut of nitrogen fertilizer appeared to drastically increase production in the field. Today, we know that chemical fertilizers have quite a few unintended side effects that call into question their long term viability.
It was around this time that relatively modern methods of commercial fishing using steam and gas powered ships drastically increased fish harvests. These bigger harvests seemed great…for awhile. As we know today, we actually ended up overfishing many natural fish stocks. This was first famously apparent by the hunting and subsequent disappearance of whales. To this day, whaling is banned by most countries.
We fully transitioned into the Food 3.0 epoch roughly halfway through the 20th century, hot off the tails of innovators like Henry Ford, who popularized the assembly line with his revolutionary River Rouge factory building the famous Model T. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) started to pop up in the 50s for chicken, 70s for beef, and 80s for pork. CAFOs take the assembly line model and apply it to animal husbandry. In some of these cases, production increased faster than the vanilla exponential curve. “In 1966, it took one million farms to house 57 million pigs; by the year 2001, it only took 80,000 farms to house the same number of pigs.” Likewise, as fish harvests dwindled, contained aquaculture really started to take off in the late 1980s. The same goes for hydroponics, although its roots date back all the way to 1627 with Sir Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum.
Food 4.0 – Sustainable Agriculture 1990AD – Present (~25 years)
Now, merely 25 years later, we are entering the Food 4.0 revolution. As old ways of thinking subside in favor of the ideals of biomimicry, value preservation, and natural capitalism, we are seeing a dramatic shift towards food systems that yield high value at a fraction of the cost of old technologies and in a fraction of the space, all without negatively impacting the natural environment. This revolution is truly an opportunity for us all. Aquaponics, smart farms, distributed farming, these are the technologies empowering a new wave of entrepreneurs to create the self-sufficient cities of tomorrow. We are right on the cusp of the next evolution for humanity. What are you doing to take part in it?
So How Does this Line Up with Our Exponential Curve?
Let’s plot these massive transformations in the food industry onto our exponential curve. These are rough plots, but I think they illustrate the idea very clearly.
A Most Exciting Time to Be Alive
So now you’re probably thinking, “OK, cool charts Spencer… but what does that all mean? How does it affect me and my loved ones?” Imagine what the exponential growth of food production will look like in our daily life within the next decade.
With simultaneous improvements in smart agriculture technology, online education, and aquaponics system hardware/design, many homes, apartment buildings, schools, and other structures have aquaponics systems running passively. Every one of these homes is earning passive income from food production similar to a house with solar panels selling energy back to the grid. Any food you don’t consume yourself can be sold at your local market.
In order to facilitate this, entirely new categories of jobs are created, such as the local harvester who maintains production in the many aquaponics systems throughout the area. Think of it like the Uber of food, locals driving around to pick up excess production from dozens or hundreds of local farms, distributed throughout the community. This massive, diverse harvest is aggregated (more new jobs) and sold directly to the community through a truly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Large quantities of high quality, fresh, local food will become much more affordable, driving out unhealthy and unsustainable options we are currently used to.
With local production booming, we will be far less reliant on generic food that has been genetically optimized for shipping. No more mushy red water balloons we unwittingly call tomatoes. Unique local food specialization will create a new age of heirloom varieties.
This creates the rise of a whole new industry: food vacations. You’ll now have the ability to go on a world tomato tour and taste the subtle, nuanced differences between a North Hampton tomato in a fresh salad, a Brazilian tomato alongside a juicy grass-fed steak, and a rich tomato sauce from Italy.
By this point, distributed farms and dematerialized distribution systems (like how Uber dematerialized the Taxi industry) will have explosively increased global food production, making hunger a non-issue. With hunger a relic of the past, all humans are able to climb Maslow’s hierarchy of needs towards self-fulfillment. This will accelerate innovation even further as billions of once hungry humans are now able to contribute their own innovations to the global economy, rather than worry about their next meal.
Steps on the path to that day:
This is all very exciting, and certainly a little idealistic. But what better time for idealism than at the start of a new year? We can cultivate a world of food security. The technologies already exist. The demand for fresh food exists. All that we need are the brave few who want to claim this opportunity. Those who want to grow to their fullest potential and take part in the explosive climb we are about to see in food production.
So what can you do to take part in this epic transitional period?
Want to make a living by feeding your community? We need to increase the number of farms and farmers right now. The average age of farmers has been climbing steadily year after year across our nation and if we don’t start making new farmers, there will literally be no one to grow our food. This is an amazing opportunity for any new farmer who wants to get in early. With these new technologies you don’t have to be a fourth generation farmer to be successful, or own acres of land.
We can improve the local food infrastructure to support large numbers of diverse local producers networked together in a symbiotic food ecosystem. Using modern technology like mobile applications and artificial intelligence, we will seamlessly synchronize farms across the network with a crowdsourced labor force of harvesters, aggregators, and transporters.
Additionally, innovations must be made to expand the capabilities of aquaponics and other sustainable methods of farming to produce the cereal crops we are all accustomed to. We must improve methods of growing cereal crops beyond specialty crops like greens and herbs. This billion dollar opportunity is yours for the taking…
Above all else, we need YOU to get growing today! Getting more people growing with aquaponics is the number one way to speed up innovation and get larger sets of data for the industry. Frankly, it is easier than ever before to start up your own aquaponics system. When I first started there were a handful of youtube videos and one reputable book. Now, just a few short years later, there are dozens of forums, a worldwide network of educators, and many books and scientific articles on aquaponics. What will it be like just a few short years from now?
In fact, in the last year, many new aquaponics systems hit the market. This was one of the first waves of aquaponics entering the general population, emerging from the deceptive stage of university studies and garage-based DIY tinkerers. In the next year, we will see a ton of new products come to the market, we have a few planned for release ourselves at Trifecta Ecosystems. We “soft-launched” two products in 2016, both of which have had great initial reception. After a few more rounds of beta-testing we will be releasing to systems to the public to get involved in this new era of food production. We’re set to release a whole host of new resources through our new website. We will be hosting events and workshops from our new urban facility set to open at the end of the first quarter. It has been an exciting year and we are looking to make the next one even better. We hope this year you’ll join us and take part in the revolution through buying locally produced fresh foods or growing your own food and educating yourself and others on this new era of food abundance we are traveling towards.
As more and more people take the leap into the growth opportunity of the century, the pace of progress will accelerate further thanks to recursive growth. Are you ready to do your part in this age of abundance?
Here’s to your growth in 2017!
However, there was one topic I didn’t get to talk about as much as I’d like, technology. Now of course we are an aquaponics farm. Aquaponics is an advanced technology in and of itself, the offspring of hydroponics and aquaculture. Aquaponics has many applications and unique values that differentiate it from either traditional hydroponics or aquaculture.
Many aquaponic farmers are popping up, hoping to take advantage of the epic productivity gains achieved with aquaponics. However, their competitive advantage from aquaponics alone will slowly fade away as this amazing technology catches on with wider appeal.
This is why it is vital to understand that new technologies don’t replace skill, they only empower and enhance it. Relying on any one individual technological advantage will eventually spell doom for your farm or company.
Remember Kodak? They relied on their development chemicals and film too heavily and ignored up and coming solutions like digital cameras. This resulted in the eventual bankruptcy of Kodak. The irony: the first digital camera was created in Kodak’s own labs. The executives were too blinded by their reliance on a sole technology and weren’t able to adapt with a new one.
The lesson? Technology is vital to sustainable growth of every industry, but reliance on any single technology can quickly ruin you. Reliance on just aquaponics alone will only yield you a temporary advantage in today’s farmer’s market.
That is why I strongly urge all aquaponic farmers and gardeners of all sizes: tap into the abundance of exponential technologies that are transforming the world we live in.
What is an Exponential Technology?
Exponential technologies, like the internet, solarpower, and computing power, are changing the way the world operates. In fact, some people define an exponential technology as any technology that will disrupt or otherwise change the way society operates on a larger scale. We’re talking smart-agriculture, social media, 3d printing, virtual reality, and other amazing, futuristic advances that fundamentally change how the world works.
Wait, isn’t technology bad for the environment?
Historically, technology has increased pollution and devastation wherever it has gone. In the quest for expansion, fossil fuels and other unsustainable practices have provided growth at a grave cost.
Technologies are only tools, used for both good and for bad. Oil powers our world and pollutes it at the same time. Spying and illegal surveillance is an abuse of networked data collection. Hacking to steal credit card information from innocent people is an abuse. We must recognize the difference between abusive uses of technology and the technology itself.
Also, by their very nature, some technologies are unsustainable and damaging. These include fossil fuel production, conventional commercial farming, and commercial fishing. These technologies were vital to get us to the point we are in now. Without them, who knows where we’d be. However, we must now take stock of where we are and create new technologies that can replace the fundamentally destructive ones.
We are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution that is inspired with the idea that technology doesn’t have to harm the environment, but can fundamentally benefit our planet by its very existence. Paul Hawken, author of Natural Capitalism, lays out many fundamental benefits of this new greener industrial revolution.
A new generation is coming of age. This generation grew up instilled with the ideas of sustainable growth and organic practices in daily life. This has led to an incredible advancement in green technologies, including solar power, green cars, and aquaponics. This trend will continue as green technologies become the norm, due to their economic incentives, environmental impact, and social benefits.
How are these technologies shaping the world today?
Exponential technologies are already reshaping our world. Cloud computing is opening access to the most powerful computers to the general public. 3d printing lets anyone create directly from their imagination to the real world. Sensors and networks are creating information revolutions that will help aquapioneers design the perfect aquaponics system. Online teachers like YouTube, Khan Academy, and Udemy are teaching millions a day in topics ranging from cat-haberdashery to zombie apocalypse readiness.
These same platforms are bringing aquaponics to the public in totally novel ways. Learn all you need from virtual mentors, get digital “hands-on-experience” through video courses, and interact socially with other aquapioneers in online communities. Of course, this will never replace the in-person, live, hands-on approach, but online access is bringing aquaponics to exponentially more people every day than what would be capable otherwise. This is how aquaponics will expand its scope so fast.
What in the world does this have to do with Aquaponics?
I believe, and I bet you do too, that aquaponics is an exponential technology, capable of bringing sweeping changes to our planet. What if anyone could grow food for themselves, their families and even their communities? What if farming was democratized, with farms distributed across the population? What if it was easy enough that anyone interested could take part in the local food ecosystem to create food security for their community?
Aquaponics is a major piece of this food ecosystem puzzle. However, as we’ve learned from examples like Kodak, we cannot rely on just one innovation and hope for the best. In order for aquaponics to really make the impact it is capable of delivering, we must couple it with other exponential technologies. What will the future of food look like when all aquaponics systems are integrated with a sensor network? What will we learn from this data? I believe that this data will reveal the best practices necessary to allow anyone using a smart aquaponics system to grow like a pro.
Ask any aquapioneer out there, how’d you first hear about aquaponics? The answer, nine times out of ten is, “I learned about it on the internet”. I know I first found it through Google and quickly expanded that search to YouTube. The internet is breaking down barriers to education with free video content, professional level online courseware, and action plans/blueprints you can learn to grow with certainty of success. Five or ten years ago, these resources were squirreled away at various universities and the conversations were limited to local events at best. Now there are many online communities to dive into, each offering different value to the searcher. My point here is that aquaponics is an industry that is really getting its start in the digital age. Thanks to the exponential technology of the internet, Aquaponics is poised for massive expansion as the term aquaponics gains wider acceptance and recognition.
How are aquaponics and other sustainable technologies converging with exponential technologies to make the world a better place?
We all know the massive impact Aquaponics has for anyone interested in growing more food in a sustainable way, but what will it look like as these exponential technologies converge?
Smart systems, powered by sensor and network technology, will give the new gardener a user interface to interact with the garden in a whole new way. Be alerted to nutrient deficiencies before they become a problem, and get a text to your phone if the power goes out so you can stop it from flooding everywhere.
Run your system sustainably with solar power with affordable leases on solar panels. Store that solar energy in your very own Tesla battery and maintain system operations day in and day out.
Use plant tracking software like Rob Torcellini’s TrackMyPlants and Bright Agrotech’s Able system to measure your success. Then add in sensors and cloud networking to track your system’s health over time. Using these technologies, anyone can leverage the thousands of collective experiences of farmers throughout the network.
Eventually we can schedule food pickups and deliveries with app services like Amazon’s AmazonFresh will bring fresh produce directly to you from growers in your area. Maybe you’ll get our next salad delivered by a drone!
What are some ways you can utilize these technologies for yourself?
These and even more futuristic sounding occurrences are actually all possible today, using existing technology.
At Trifecta we just started using the Able platform, which was created by our friends over at Bright Agrtoech. We use it to track all of our plants from seeding through all stages of growth. This lets us track production rates alongside the system variables so we can hone in on the perfect conditions for our plants. Remember, the key to aquaponics is honoring the living system and creating an environment in which our microbial employees can thrive!
We are also using cutting edge LED lighting technology (in our winter and indoor growing systems) from a local company called Agrivolution. LED technology is growing by leaps and bounds, making lights cheaper and more effective at the same time. With the latest generation lights, we can affordably light our farms in the winter and interior spaces.
We also use the internet to connect with other like-minded aquapioneers. My number one tip for using exponential technologies is to tap into the power of the crowd in aquaponics. Use resources like YouTube and Facebook and connect in the many groups dedicated to aquaponics.
As a reader of our site, you also get FREE access to my private social mastermind, which I host on the amazing Slack platform. Online communities are hands down the most powerful benefit to the Aquapioneer because you get unfiltered access to a wide variety of growers from all experience levels. We use slack because it breaks down barriers, allowing everyone to interact together in an unrestrained way. It’s also totally ad free and doesn’t profit off your data like Facebook or Google. Its pretty cool and the community is growing every day. You can claim your FREE access, just click this link.
Exponential Technologies Enable Aquaponic Abundance
We’ve only grazed the surface of the potential of aquaponic abundance. In the coming months, we will continue our exploration into the technology behind sustainable food ecosystems and aquaponic abundance. We will take the deep dive into renewable energy tech, smart agriculture, online learning, and more. We will report on these technologies and how they are enabling us or other growers in our network to grow more for less. We’ll keep our readers updated on the best ways to get growing and stay ahead of the curve in this industry.
It’s a fast paced world out there and it isn’t likely to slow down. In fact as we learned today we are just getting started and we are actually about to accelerate. It’s important that we embrace this shift and understand that these new tools will make our lives easier, enable more people to succeed on their own terms, and bring opportunity and food to those it was previously unavailable too. We are living in the most exciting time in human history and our future as a planet is brighter than ever. Critical to that future is our willingness to embrace innovation and sustainability and not stay rooted in the ways of our past that our hurting our health and our planet. We look to be leading the way for others and will do everything in our ability to enable others to do the same.