As we enter the fourth industrialized economy, known as 4.0, we must consider the role of the beef industry in the big picture. This includes asking the question of where beef sits with regard to the elements of 4.0, which are robotics, artificial intelligence, nano-technology, genomics, bioscience and the complexity of full digitalization and cyber physicality.
The world has moved rather quickly from 1.0 which was mechanization, through 2.0 which was mass production. And although mass production was still in the mix when the industrialized economy hit 3.0, it was computerized and automated. In the fastest evolving of all, Economy 4.0 is about digital disruption, data mining and cyber systems. The preferred method of delivery will be channeled via the smartphone.
Unlike mass production, which was the delivery of the same thing for all people, 4.0 is driven by a consumer-focused deliverable. This is about building a customer base on specifics gleaned from realms of databanks from the customer’s history of eating and buying habits, location, income, gender or a number of specifics that make a customer profile.
On a global scale, 4.0 is a massive information exchange that feeds into planning and the operating systems of multinationals and fuels the artificial intelligence (AI) to deal with the profile. AI is used extensively today from disease identification in plants, DNA profiles in soil to picking apples or doing legal research — once the job of human assistants. The projected four million data points to be collected from each farm, per day by the year 2050, will certainly need analytics and will feed into the development of artificial intelligence specific to agricultural production, manufacturing, sales and distribution.
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From a food perspective, there are many ways to consider how 4.0 may influence the future; allow me just a few examples. One is that global knowledge will ensure that each consumer is central to receive the same level of nutrition which is a desirable outcome. Or, global knowledge will collapse entire regions or nations to “redistribute or rebuild” specific profitable enterprises which would ignite huge social consequences.
Regardless, as the production of food will be promoted from a global lens, it risks some of the rural strengths and middle-class economics that are so critical and drive economies of scale and commerce to areas of high population density. Intense urbanization is already a consequence of globalization and this is projected to increase, which is great from a point of practicality for customer databases and delivery systems of food such as beef.
I do question if urban centres fuel a diverse set of perspectives that are creative and needed to challenge both science and unproven assumptions, or if purposeful urban intensity is the creation of a directed collective consciousness where one is being told they are unique as they are mined of their identity? How does beef stack up in this picture considering that part of the 4.0 agenda to feed these populations is the movement away from horizontal to vertical agriculture? What information does the beef industry need to ensure it is part of the solution rather than be used as a global example of designed extermination?
Globalization in its current form is neither fully accountable to, nor profitable for many producers. We only have to revisit the development of intensive cropping systems in areas of the world where the soil and the annual income of farmers could not sustain the practise. The rise of slavery in agriculture to meet global targets, the pressure on land to carry through to trade obligations, and the constant pressure to produce more on arable acres are traits of globalization. Diversity is lost in the 3.0 and 4.0 industrial economies and livestock play a huge part in diversity.
Positive aspects of a global economy are information exchange and the speedy dissemination of information such as in the case of disease outbreak in humans or livestock, and the advanced technical tools for rapid local diagnosis and treatment. It will help in nutritional studies, in animal welfare approaches as data and science might lend itself to the creation of zoonotic barriers that halt the cross-contamination of disease.
The idea that the 4.0 economy is consumer-centred is interesting as one considers that the fastest-growing population in the world is the mobilized. Although there are few indigenous nomadic populations left and their knowledge of land and water is lost with them, there are hundreds of millions of tech savvy, educated and self-supporting young people of no permanent fixed address; in addition to millions who are displaced or job wandering. As long as these populations on the move have a cellphone, data collection and analysis is ongoing.
And let us not forget to ask: who owns the data and what are the limitations on its use? The crime of the day is cyber crime — and this activity will only increase. As we begin the age of robotic worker autonomy, who is ultimately responsible? How these new legal challenges will be governed locally, nationally and internationally is an important question with regard to food safety.
If the 4.0 future is consumer-centralized, then what does the future of beef look like? How does meat fit in the digitalized world and be delivered to the current population and to growing nomadism? How does this affect your farm, your ranch, your community and the value added required to deliver food in a globalized world? Despite all the data on what, where and how, we still are unclear of who will execute Economy 4.0. Will it be you — or the robot next door?