Caleb Harper

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Digital Farming Pioneer; Leading Authority on Using Technology and Democratization to Solve Global Food Crises; Founder & Director, OpenAG Initiative, MIT Media Lab

Biography

Many people say they want to impact the world. Caleb Harper, principal investigator and director of the Open Agriculture (OpenAG) Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, is actually doing it – by changing how we grow food to feed and nourish the 9 billion people of 2050.

An engineer turned urban farmer, Harper is working to reverse the global food crisis by revolutionizing agriculture as we know it. At MIT, he leads a diverse team of engineers, architects, urbanists, economists and plant scientists in the exploration and development of future food systems. Together they are innovating what Harper dubs the “Food Computer” – a disruptive, open-source, scalable, controlled-environment agriculture technology platform. The technology exists now; it’s rapidly evolving and quickly finding support in companies, public schools and in warehouses already stacked with it (vertical farms). Harper’s provocative and engaging TED Talk on the “computer that will grow your food” has garnered more than 1.3 million views in just a few short months.

Harper – a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and member of the World Economic Forum New Vision for Agriculture Transformation Leaders Network – focuses his research in the areas of controlled environment design, actuated sensing, control automation and data-driven resource, energy and biologic optimization. His work has been featured by top publications, including TIME, WIRED, The Economist, National Geographic, The Smithsonian, Popular Science and IEEE, and is increasingly drawing the interest and investment of global financing firms. Government and world leaders, and scientists and scholars alike are visiting Harper’s labs to see the implications first hand. Harper’s book on the future of the food industry will be published by Atria in Summer 2019.

Prior to joining the MIT Media Lab in 2011, Harper worked professionally as an architect, designing and developing data centers, health care and semi-conductor fabrication facilities. He’s also consulted with multiple international development agencies, including USAID, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the Delhi Development Authority on high-density urban development projects.

Harper, whose family is in the grocery business and also raises crops and livestock in Texas and Kansas, has tremendous respect for traditional farming. This new model of the digital world farm, however, is something he passionately believes is needed. By combining the things he loves in life – the technology of computing, architecture and engineering with his innate desire to grow things – Harper is not only changing the future of agriculture, but also changing lives in the process.

Caleb Harper is available for paid speaking engagements including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, conference talks, and advisory/consulting services through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Books & Research

Media

Stern Strategy Group

Innovative Opportunities For The Future Of Food

November 13, 2018

Byte-Sized: How Technology Is Revolutionising Food Production

November 1, 2018

Wall Street Journal logo

Perfecting Crops With AI-Powered Indoor Farms

October 17, 2018

How to Invent the Future: A Look at the Most Promising Pioneers in Technology

April 25, 2018

Techworld logo

Make Food Production Data Open Source, Urges MIT Media Lab

February 28, 2017

medium dotcom logo

2017: The OpenAg Ecosystem Expands -Research, Non-Profit, Ventures

January 27, 2017

The Farming of the Future Looks Nothing Like it Does Today

June 29, 2016

Food Computer: How Caleb Harper Inspires Us to Be Future Farmers

July 11, 2016

The Economist logo

Brain Scan: Caleb Harper

June 9, 2016

The Economist logo

The Future of Agriculture: Factory Fresh

June 9, 2016

christian science monitor

Is Digital Farming the Future of Food?

May 24, 2016

MIT Engineers Enhance Food Production with Smarter Data

March 11, 2016

Wired logo

Will Open-Source Farming Topple Agribusiness Giants?

February 26, 2016

MIT's Food Computer: The Future of Urban Agriculture

January 20, 2016

popular science logo

What Are You Doing For Thanksgiving?: Caleb Harper

November 26, 2015

Open-Sourced Food Production – the Future of Urban Diets?

November 10, 2015

medium dotcom logo

Launching the OpenAG Initiative at the MIT Media Lab

October 16, 2015

Wired logo

In the Future, Even Broccoli Will Have an IP Address

October 15, 2015

What Is a Personal Food Computer?

August 3, 2015

christian science monitor

How Personal Food Computers Could Revolutionize Farming

June 17, 2015

Washington Post logo

Inside an MIT Researcher's Grand Plan to Create the Personal Food Computer

June 17, 2015

This Ag Innovator Wants to Find Your Broccoli by IP Address

June 10, 2015

2015 Emerging Explorers: Caleb Harper

2015

Huffington Post logo

Why Vertical Farming Could Be On The Verge Of A Revolution — And What’s Keeping It Down

March 12, 2015

Wired logo

MIT's Incubator-Grown Plants Might Hold Key to Food Crisis

October 6, 2014

At MIT, A Farm Grows That Is Built For A City

October 1, 2014

TIME Magazine logo

This New Method of Farming Could Change Where Our Food Comes From

October 1, 2014

A-Z Name

Harper, Caleb

Biography

Many people say they want to impact the world. Caleb Harper, principal investigator and director of the Open Agriculture (OpenAG) Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, is actually doing it – by changing how we grow food to feed and nourish the 9 billion people of 2050.

An engineer turned urban farmer, Harper is working to reverse the global food crisis by revolutionizing agriculture as we know it. At MIT, he leads a diverse team of engineers, architects, urbanists, economists and plant scientists in the exploration and development of future food systems. Together they are innovating what Harper dubs the “Food Computer” – a disruptive, open-source, scalable, controlled-environment agriculture technology platform. The technology exists now; it’s rapidly evolving and quickly finding support in companies, public schools and in warehouses already stacked with it (vertical farms). Harper’s provocative and engaging TED Talk on the “computer that will grow your food” has garnered more than 1.3 million views in just a few short months.

Harper – a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and member of the World Economic Forum New Vision for Agriculture Transformation Leaders Network – focuses his research in the areas of controlled environment design, actuated sensing, control automation and data-driven resource, energy and biologic optimization. His work has been featured by top publications, including TIME, WIRED, The Economist, National Geographic, The Smithsonian, Popular Science and IEEE, and is increasingly drawing the interest and investment of global financing firms. Government and world leaders, and scientists and scholars alike are visiting Harper’s labs to see the implications first hand. Harper’s book on the future of the food industry will be published by Atria in Summer 2019.

Prior to joining the MIT Media Lab in 2011, Harper worked professionally as an architect, designing and developing data centers, health care and semi-conductor fabrication facilities. He’s also consulted with multiple international development agencies, including USAID, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the Delhi Development Authority on high-density urban development projects.

Harper, whose family is in the grocery business and also raises crops and livestock in Texas and Kansas, has tremendous respect for traditional farming. This new model of the digital world farm, however, is something he passionately believes is needed. By combining the things he loves in life – the technology of computing, architecture and engineering with his innate desire to grow things – Harper is not only changing the future of agriculture, but also changing lives in the process.

Caleb Harper is available for paid speaking engagements including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, conference talks, and advisory/consulting services through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

Hacking Agriculture: Hunger, Health & The Future of Food

Today’s world has been revolutionized by technologies that are increasingly connected, networked and accessible to the masses. In stark contrast, agricultural production is still constrained by industrial-era economics. Caleb Harper is driving a paradigm shift from the industrial to the networked age of agricultural production. He believes this is the key to democratizing food production and empowering people to take back control over what they are eating and where it’s coming from.

Harper discusses the global food crisis and how his “Food Computer” – a technology that serves as a shared, hackable platform using robotic systems to control and monitor climate, energy and plant growth indoors – is already revolutionizing the future of farming. He paints a picture of his vision for a digital world farm and describes its ecological, environmental, economic and societal implications. His mission is one everyone can get behind, from businesses to investors, educators, researchers and chefs.

“Making agricultural practices radically transparent will improve access to fresh, nutritious foods, reduce food spoilage and food waste, and create local and global communities that are built on a shared platform and shared data.” Food is everybody’s business – and Harper explains why.

A Farmer and a Doctor Walk into a Lab: Designing Disease-Fighting Plants

Heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s have taken a rising toll on Americans’ health in recent years. Doctors have noticed a correlation between diet and the likelihood of staving off or mitigating illness with all three diseases. While scientists are still exploring the connection, their findings will continue to inform not only what we choose to eat, but how to design plants that maximize specific nutrients most effective at fighting these conditions. Caleb Harper and his “digital farming” revolution expand on advanced medical science. Working with patient data supplied by Harvard Medical School, he uses AI to decipher patterns between the type of plants people consume and their probability of avoiding particular diseases. His work, at the intersection of agriculture and health care, opens up the possibility of a new innovation: the disease-fighting super plant. In this presentation, Harper reveals how his research can lead to crucial breakthroughs in nutritional science by creating customized plants that improve health outcomes.

After Organic: What’s Next in Food Trends?

After decades of eating mass-produced, processed food, socially and health conscious people embraced what has become the dominant trend in food selection of the modern era: organic. What will consumers embrace next, and how can retailers and producers capitalize early on?  Caleb Harper’s answer, the product of his groundbreaking research on digital farming, is customized food, grown by computers and designed for unique nutritional goals and palates. Digital agriculture could usher in not a mere “fad” in retail preferences, but an entirely new way of thinking about our food and where it comes from.

While food can ostensibly be “organic” and still be part of a dubious supply chain, Harper’s “food computer” allows any plant to be grown anywhere, in any way. From his lab in Cambridge, Mass., he replicates the climate of rural Tuscany to grow tomatoes that look and taste Tuscan. And while allowing computers to grow food may not seem “natural,” it’s the best way to ensure food is grown without the use of additives or pesticides. Though it may seem counterintuitive, technology is the key to a more wholesome, transparent supply chain for food with all-natural ingredients. In this eye-opening presentation, Harper reveals the potential appeal of computer-grown food to producers, retailers and conscious consumers alike.

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