The future of food is already here, with exciting advancements like lab-grown and AI-powered creations. This innovative and sustainable approach to cooking is reshaping the way we eat. In this exciting episode, we sit down with Michael Cushman, a Director of Consulting at the DaVinci Institute, a Futurist think-tank, to discuss the tantalizing future of food. From lab-grown meats to vertical farms in bustling cities, Michael discusses the innovative technologies that are revolutionizing the way we produce, distribute, and consume food. He explains how technology trends can be predicted, such as the impact of AI on scientific discoveries and its role in advancing medicine, energy, and more. But it’s not just about technology; it’s about understanding how to navigate a world filled with possibilities. Join us and get hungry for a future where the impossible becomes deliciously possible.  

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The Future Of Food – A Conversation With Michael Cushman

I have Michael Cushman, who is a futurist and an expert on many things. In this episode, we are going to be talking about food and how it’s going to be changing in the coming years. Michael, thank you so much for having us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in this area?

You don’t grow up thinking, “I’m going to be a futurist.” That’s not something your guidance counselor is going to tell you, but I was very lucky. My father was a long-term planner for AT&T, so he was thinking 10, 20, 30 years out for AT&T and trying to plan out where technologies were going at a time it was satellites, fiber cable, and things like that, and how they would build out infrastructure for AT&T.

He had degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering. As a kid, we were pulled into every World’s Fair. I went to the ’64 World’s Fair and the Expo in Montreal, which was fabulous. As a kid, I didn’t appreciate it probably as much as I should have. We were close to Bell Labs, so he took me to Bell Labs when I was a kid to see the first transistor, the first integrated circuits, and things like that.

I never thought of myself as a futurist, though, until I was a consultant doing a lot of big business transformations. One of my colleagues said that on a previous project, what they had done was look at the future of this particular industry to kick off these projects. Probably that’s a brilliant idea. This was back in the ’90s. From then on, I did all my big consulting projects with a start, “Where’s the future going of this industry? What technologies are going to change?” To get people excited and motivated to change, instead of forcing change on people. Once you spend some time saying, “This is where things are going,” everybody does stuff about imagining their jobs changing and the company changing.

That became my MO of that, and then I had a friend who had a friend. He said, “You think a lot alike. You need to meet this guy.” That’s Thomas Frey, the head of DaVinci, and that was years ago. We just had coffee and realized that my background in thinking and the way I did stuff matched very well. I brought a different skill set. Tom’s an out-there thinker. His PhD was in user interfaces and things like that at IBM, but he thinks broadly, not necessarily practical.

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I had a much more practical background in my MBA and a science background. I always worked with businesses in the bottom line. I have done a little bit more of the bigger consulting projects that we have. I won’t use a company name, but a large company comes in and says, “We are building this technology. How is this going to change our workers’ lives? How is this going to change our customer base?” That’s my basic background.

As far as food, I am not a food expert per se. I’m a technology expert and how technology changes things the way we work and live. I have found that in every presentation that I do, I introduce some ideas about food because everyone eats. No matter what the person’s background in the audience, they find it very interesting to talk a little bit about the future of food. It’s a great grab inside my presentations because not everyone wants to talk about some specific industry thing or get deep down in the weeds about some technology. When you start talking about food, everyone is interested in food.

Not everyone wants to talk about some specific industry thing or get deep down in the weeds about some technology. But when you start talking about food, everyone’s interested in it.

I was excited to talk to you because I do think that we are becoming more cognizant of what we eat as a species. When I was growing up, there weren’t as many healthy options as there are now. I think that people understand the connection between the food that they eat and their health much more so than ever in the past. Much of our existence as a species was just subsistence eating. We weren’t even able to live in the feasting state that we are right now. Now, we have been eating so much that it’s causing us to have negative problems. We have to scale everything back and focus on food.

Where do you see us going in the way that we are eating? I know that a lot of people are talking about the health aspect of food. However, the technological aspect, when we think about how computers have changed the way that we operate, what is coming down the pipeline in food technology that’s going to change our society?

There’s so much, and it’s a broad topic. It’s interesting because pollution and even global warming, all these things are related to farming as well. You can’t completely separate one thing from another. I will give you an example. If we were to continue our farm practices and add, over the next many years, two billion more people on the planet, we would need farming to use all the usable land and usable fresh water in the world.

That’s not a sustainable model. What’s good is we have technology to enable us to change, and we have a reason to change. You need the pain to get behavioral changes. There are different ways of looking at the future of agriculture farming. I like to talk about it as the future of food because you don’t necessarily have to have agriculture to have food.

Now, we are moving into a phase where we can generate food without growing food on a piece of land, for example, as we do. I liked how you mentioned that used to be subsistence living. The future that how we got here from agriculture. To me, the invention or discovery of agriculture is the most important thing in human history. It changed us, but it took a long time to change from when we first simultaneously around the world around, say, 12,000 or 11,000 years ago, discovered this idea that, “These things are seeds, and if we throw them somewhere, there will be more of them.”

Once that started to happen, human beings could stay longer in 1 place with 1 food source. It’s the very first technology that’s scaled. I like to think, as a futurist, of what scales. That changes how we work and live. You scale the land because now you can have more food on the same amount of land, and now we start to stay there longer, and we need people to do the farming. It takes a long time. There are no significant innovations. There’s just a slow transition going on from gatherers and hunters. We are simultaneously planting things, and then we begin to domesticate stuff. The plow took 6,000 years to invent after discovery.

That’s how slow. The wheel is in that category of 5,000 years later. The written language isn’t that kept. It took a while for this to begin to change who we are and what we do. Once we settle, we have culture, we have to have rules, we have more people, we have to have hierarchies, and we have to have specialization of labor. Everything we know now is based on this concept of living together in one place and passing on knowledge and information from generation to generation until we are here now.

Scale matters to me. The only other key scale was the printing press movable type, so now we could spread information. Instead of one person copying one book at a time, we could make thousands. The next one is the industrial revolution that we all think about where we add power to our tools. For example, we first did coal, then we did steam, then we did gas, and then we did electric motors. Then we were able to make things at scale. That’s the next huge scale. That’s when life started to change. 1790, we begin on this path of incredible production of things.

The computers came in 1950. Now, it’s telecommunications and digitalization, the digital scale. You make one copy of something, and now the next billion copies are all free and instant. That’s where the next scale comes from. Now, we are entering a new phase, which was going to add to the food story is AI. With generative AI we are now going to scale intelligence, thinking, prediction, and design. That’s the next piece and that’s very important. I will give you an example of food. From 1950 until 2022, we were working on understanding proteins. We had to do it the old-fashioned way in a lab, play with them, and try to get the structure and function of a protein.

We got to 100,000 at a cost of $7.5 billion to get to understand those 100,000 proteins. We fed that information into an AI in ’22. It told us the remaining 1.9 million proteins and what their structure and function were instantly. For free, we have got twenty times more information. That’s how AI is affecting. People think of protein as food, but if you think of protein and what it is, it’s molecular robots. These molecular robots digest food for us that we eat, but they also create every aspect of living things.

Every bacteria, fungi, insect, and animal on the planet uses proteins to make, maintain, grow, and develop. Every part of our bodies is built by proteins. Proteins are the primary signaling system inside our bodies and proteins are our immune system. We take proteins, take our foods, turn them into us, and then the profoundness of being able to understand two million proteins that exist in nature and what they do. It’s a huge leap in science that the average person is not going to know about. It changes everything.

I agree with you. I remember before the advent of this understanding of proteins, finding out a protein structure was a very complicated process. It involved a whole host of steps. It probably took weeks at a time. Now, it’s so much easier, which is a big leap forward. The reason why I would want to focus on protein for a second is because we think of protein as meat and meat as protein. When it comes to food, when we are talking about meat, which is something that I feel is part of the human diet for most people, how far away are we from producing that at scale like you are talking about without having to slaughter a cow or hurt an animal?

There are companies in the United States, UK, Netherlands, and Singapore, that originally started in Israel to grow meat. Cultivated meat, starts in a lab, and then you put it in a bioreactor and you grow it. It’s done. Once you take stem cells from a cow or any other animal you want, you grow them and direct them. We have this ability now to take stem cells and direct their growth pattern. We can grow them into proteins. We can grow them into fats.

We will be playing with this from the point of view of creating the right texture and taste in doing. That’s been the development commercialization side. We are starting to commercialize in those countries that I mentioned. The regulatory bodies in those countries are making the space for that to be considered real food and available.

It is real food. It is a cow or chicken. What I like to tell my audience is, you can eat anything in the future because there’s no slaughtering. If you want to eat kangaroo, you can eat kangaroo. If you want to eat anything, if you like the combination and the taste, you could do it. This also enables customization of the food, so you can decide what other nutrients could be built into the food, and what taste is built into the food. You can even put medications into the food if it makes sense to do such a thing. As people on meds, they could just be eating and not have to think about taking a separate pill.

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Commercialization is happening. One of the Israeli companies has opened a big bioreactor in Atlanta, which was a good choice because they don’t have many cows, so they are focusing on cows. The guys in California focused on chicken surprised me because the price of beef is higher per pound. You can go on the high scale, think of the most expensive beef, Kobe beef, and it is commercially a good choice to make money at.

Are we there yet where somebody can go somewhere and get human-created non-slaughtered beef and eat it?

I know here in Denver you can. There are many restaurants that serve it.

How much does that go for?

It’s expensive. A hamburger is like $10 or $15. It’s on the expensive side. It doesn’t have to be though. If you looked at the price over time, the first hamburger cost well over $100,000 to $200,000, over down to something like that. What’s also impressive is how fast it is. Farming is terrible from the point of view of the feedback loop. It’s very slow. If you say, “The price of beef is high. I’m going to start having more cows, and I’m going to get in this business.”

It should be 2 or 3 years with growth hormones to get the cows to the point you can slaughter them. Whereas growing a hamburger or something like that, we are talking six weeks max, probably the equivalent of. We are able to grow food fairly quickly, and I can talk about another technology that’s even faster. We are going to see, there’s even going to be a battle in how that market is built.

The other technology I will talk about briefly is newer and that is to take carbon dioxide plus sunlight. Essentially, we are starting to imitate plants and create a meal for bacteria, and the bacteria produce the amino acids for us. When you combine different kinds of amino acids, you get different flavors of meats and paste. This scales very well also. It’s pretty cheap to do. Sunlight and carbon dioxide right out of the air feed to these microbes and have the microbes produce using their internal proteins to produce these amino acids. This can be done anywhere, just like the other bio for it. You don’t need to be in a land that normally can produce food.

I think that if we can’t replicate the meat that humans consume right now, it’s going to be very difficult for people to adopt it. I know the other alternative protein sources like insects and, honestly even tofu, but it hasn’t caught on the mainstream. It’s so deep in our cultural consciousness that I want to have a steak. If we can make an artificial steak that tastes like the real thing, that’s when the quick adoption happens. Quick adoption is what is going to spur change. If human beings can’t get on board with this stuff, then we are just doing it for no real gain. I would love to live in a future where this stuff is available, but if human beings aren’t going to adopt it, then it’s not going to happen.

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I do think that the people who are commercializing get that, they are on it. I saw a cool piece of technology. I think it was at MIT, something I’m playing with. What it did that I thought was cool was it used a 3D printer to print out the chicken cells and simultaneously used the laser to cook the chicken as it was printing. When they turn and change the laser, it scars, it looks like it came off of a grill, and it tastes like it came off of a grill. Isn’t that cool?

That is so cool. I want to try it now that you are talking about it. There’s a restaurant in Denver, you said that serves this?

I’m sure every major city or cool city, I’m sure San Francisco would be one. In Boston, you probably find someone. There’s going to be resistance which is always fascinating because the existing industry is scared of the death of this. One of the states out here in West Montana or Nebraska passed a law that says meat has to have a hoof to be called meat. That won’t last. It’s fun to watch the normal resistance that humans have, and that’s industry resistance, not what you are talking about, which is consumption.

When I talk to audiences, I can go back to a few years when I started talking about cultivated meats and growing meats. Almost everybody would gasp in the audience. The idea of taking stem cells and growing meat, and then that’s a real hamburger. They would groan and like, “I can’t imagine.” Now, I just gave a presentation and only one person groaned. The idea somehow is getting out there anyway. I don’t think the adoption is going to be as hard as people. When you start talking about the slaughtering of animals, to the system, what cows do to our environment is disastrous, so it’s not sustainable.

A hamburger takes 600 gallons of water to make when you count the crops that are involved and the animals, then animals pollute the water with E. coli. We have this problem here in Colorado. Always, the farm runoff is running off E. coli into our swimming areas. The beaches are closed right now in the major swimming areas that are lakes because of E. coli. You have phosphorus and nitrates. I’m going to share something with you the meat is scary. Farms have been addicted just like cocaine to using phosphorus and nitrates because they have destroyed all the topsoil.

That’s a farming practice, that could be changed, that one way of getting a better outcome from farms, but it has become addictive and the industry is wanting you to stay addicted. “Keep buying my nitrate.” The land has been destroyed from the topsoil point of view, so it doesn’t absorb water well. When it rains, it washes off these chemicals. They go into streams and to lakes.

At first, this is not a bad thing because bacteria will eat it, but what’s happened is we have reached a tipping point. Too much nitrate in the water combines with the oxygen in the water and sucks out the oxygen at the bottom of lakes. Without oxygen, the bacteria can’t eat what’s at the bottom of the lakes, all that sediment, which is then producing the equivalent of postbiotics downstream.

All the nutrients that all the fish, insects, other living things, and plankton downstream need that bacteria upstream to produce those post-digestive nutrients. We have created dead zones at the bottom of our lakes. This is brand new science. It’s scary science because we have dead zones in the ocean, and now we have dead zones in our fresh water. We need to stop polluting with nitrates and phosphates in our farming. There’s another reason why we need to move to different alternative cows and meats. I like meats, I want to taste them, and I have no problem with them. To me, it’s like, “Stem cell, you grow it. It’s the same thing.”

I was telling you that I live near MIT. When I’m at dinner parties, oftentimes we are talking about futurism and things like that. I always ask the people that I’m with as an intellectual exercise, “What in the future do you think that we are going to look back at and just be disappointed in ourselves? The same way that we look at war or we are like, “Not a good time for humanity.” I always bring up the slaughtering of meat because I think about the way we treat animals in general. For example, when you are talking about dolphins or whales at SeaWorld, for a long time everybody was fine with it.

I remember going to these places and being so amazed by all the tricks that they could do. It’s only now after we realize how difficult this is for the dolphins or the whales, that there’s this backlash and people are just not comfortable with it anymore. The same thing is going to happen with large mammals and other animals that we slaughter on a regular basis. It is a practice that we do and everybody is comfortable with it. Just a few seconds of thought into it, if there’s another option that gives us that same amount of nutrition and makes sure that you know it’s safe and good for your family most people would take that. It’s why the veganism movement has become so popular in the past few decades. Have you tried it? Have you had the meat at all?

I have not. Talking out of my butt. I have talked to people who have had it here in Denver and they say it’s fine. I read an article in AP. There’s the acceptance level of it. It was an ordinary reporter who went and tasted some chicken that was from this California group and he thought it was fabulous. He was very skeptical, but once he had it, he was like, “This is chicken.”

I’m interested to try it. Honestly, I didn’t know it was in production yet. I thought it was always this thing that was out there as a technology that has not gotten down to someone myself, but I’m interested in trying it. Let me ask you a question. In regards to these places that are serving it. Where are they getting it from? Are they making it themselves? Is there a company that makes the stuff?

I don’t think so because the technology is still proprietary to some extent. Anyone probably can come up with it once you understand how it’s done. At this point, the scaling is the trick. You need the right bioreactor to grow it at scale. You still have to ship it from wherever those places are. As I say, Israel was the first to do it from the lab’s point of view. Think about Israel, you are not going to grow a lot of cows in Israel. It’s always necessary is that mother invention, so it’s always someone who has a good reason to make something or do something different. Let’s talk about the Netherlands at some point because the Netherlands is the second largest export of food in the world. They are doing it completely differently than anybody else’s. It’s interesting to talk about them.

What do you mean by that? Honestly, I never thought about that with the Netherlands, what are they doing differently?

One of their advantages is that they are flat, so it makes it easy for them, but they are not doing it outside. They are building all of these huge greenhouses that use vertical farming. When they grow tomatoes they are doing it with hydroponics, water, and nutrients in the water as opposed to using soil in some of these vegetables. They have been able to produce more food by just using science.

Spain is the number one producer of tomatoes in Europe. In the Netherlands, they are able to produce 80 tomatoes for every 4 tomatoes in the same space that they do in Spain, because they are doing it practically, and they use 1/4 of the water. The Netherlands produces all kinds of vegetables and they are exporting that all out to Europe.

It all came together for them. As a country, the right scientists came together, the right farming industry came together, and the academics all came together and said, “Let this be our industry. We have the advantage of everything being flat, so we can build all these greenhouses inexpensively. We have the scientists to play with this.”

What they have done and what they are moving up the chain already, they are already the number two export of food in the world. They are moving up into the intellectual side of this. What is cutting edge and what technologies can we build in robotics? They use more robotics to test the soil making sure when to harvest and do the harvesting. They are trying to eliminate human beings.

I will give you an example of some of the stuff they are playing with. They have this tiny little drone that can detect moths. Moths are to be normally eliminated with pesticides, but they don’t want to use any pesticides and herbicides. If it can spot a moth, it attacks the moth and chops it up with its propellers. They came up with all kinds of crazy cool stuff in order to get rid of herbicides and pesticides.

Let’s talk about resources for a second because there was an article that came out in the press about how vertical farming specifically has an issue with the amount of resources that are required to make this up. I agree with you. It’s the future. When you think about the difference between 2-dimensional versus 3-dimensional, it makes sense to grow up. Specifically, US companies have gone under because they are doing it with artificial light. The greenhouse is not something that I have heard about. Have you heard about the same thing in regard to the resource issue?

We can talk about the light because for example, what they are doing in the Netherlands is playing with what different frequencies of wavelengths of light affect the growth cycle and how and what time of day you should do it. They are still using artificial light as well as regular light in their situation because they have found that certain light waves stimulate more growth. There’s also a genetic side. There is a push to genetically re-engineer plants to grow faster, so they are pretty inefficient when it comes to photosynthesis. We have been able to double the rate of photosynthesis inside plants with genetic engineering. Now, the seed population around the world is slowly moving in that direction.

The US companies have failed. You are right. They jumped in a little too ambitious like, “Robots are going to do everything and we are going to have all this.” They didn’t care about the cost too much and just assumed they would be able to scale faster. The way the Netherlands is doing it is a little more pragmatic. They are actually growing stuff and selling it at a market price by increasing the yield and then having labs play with new ideas, and then it’s economical to introduce over time.

People are skeptical about genetic engineering when it comes to their plants. I tried a strawberry made by a New Jersey company. It wasn’t specifically genetic engineering, but it was selective breeding, which is honestly the same thing. The fact of the matter is, this strawberry was more sweet than any other strawberry that I have ever had in my life. It’s very expensive. It’s like a pack of like 4 to 8 for $30. It goes up to $60. The fact of the matter is it was like eating candy. It was so delicious, more delicious than anything that I have ever had naturally.

That’s something that’s going to be exciting also. Not only is it going to be nutritious, but it’s also going to taste better. That’s when I think that mass adoption is going to happen with this stuff because people will pay a premium to have something more tasty. It’s why high-end restaurants do so well. We just have to have a better product from that community before these things start happening.

One of the quotes that I always love to say is, “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.” If we are going to have anything happen, it has to be better than what exists. Honestly, I can tell you that this strawberry is better than anything that I have ever had, so I’m excited to see what’s coming down the pipeline. I worry when I hear those kinds of things that it’s not feasible because of the amount of cost and things like that. It’s nice to hear about the Netherlands. Have you tried any of these yourself? Have you tried any of these hydroponically grown strawberries or anything else?

We have a big community here, so not strawberries, but for some reason, hydroponics with fish on the bottom and plants on the top started in Denver about several years ago. We had a dead zone industrial area that had the, “What do you use it for?” Things near old railroad tracks and things like that. They went in there, they started doing that, and they have been still there.

In Denver, we do have on one of the streets in the art district, there’s a three-story former warehouse that is a vertical farm. They put a glass on the front so you can see it when you are walking down the street, you can see how farms grow. This is where it’s economical. They grow the kinds of spices that are expensive for restaurants.

We have another restaurant that uses cargo containers, old ones. It’s doing vertical farming in there because it’s in a field and you can just control the light. They are doing the same thing. They are growing expensive herbs that we sell to restaurants. They use it themselves. They are picking it that day right there because there is a system in the market most people don’t realize around freshness for these high-end restaurants. When people have been growing them maybe near the city, and then have a distribution system on demand to get to wherever those restaurants are. This is replacing that a little bit with vertical farming, growing them closer to the restaurants and inside cities, and using things that are sitting there or wasted space.

I do look forward to the day when the amount of time that you pick something to the amount of time that you eat something is non-existent. I have had that personally. I tried out this indoor hydroponic system called Gardyn. Honestly, the vegetables were so delicious and I was like a dinosaur. I would just walk over and grab a piece of lettuce and I would chew it while I’m watching TV or something like that. They made tomatoes, eggplants, and all sorts of different things. The amount of biomass that it created for a family of three, I have me, my wife, and my young daughter, was more than we could sustain. I ended up trying to give it away.

It was amazing how this small, it was probably five feet by three feet the amount of stuff that came out of it, it’s just the upkeep. As a professional, I didn’t have the time to clean it out and do all that stuff, but I do look forward to that day when we could have our garden inside our own house and be able to eat stuff directly the way that nature intended.

A little local thing is the gentleman who invented the first commercial for the average citizen is here in Denver. His name is Michel Bissonnet, and he created the very first one. He went on the home shopping network and sold those things everywhere and eventually sold his company off. He was the first person to introduce the idea of growing it right in your own home. We just had this history here. This has been a hotspot for that way of thinking and doing.

I will say something about the freshness of food. When we go to the supermarket, that food is old. That food is at least a week old almost. It came from California somewhere. It was picked, thrown in bins, thrown on trucks, and then it came in and went to a distribution system like Cisco. They then distribute it to the supermarkets, and then someone puts it on the shelf. It’s a week old by the time you eat that, it has only half the nutrients that it did.

We are all eating expensive food from the point of view of what nutrition you get out of it for weight or whatever that you are measuring by bringing the food. The future food is more vertical and less horizontal, more closer to cities and less rural. It scales better if you are going to do something. If you put a bioreactor, it’s going to scale in a city much better in the rural area.

You are going to see this movement and shift in using rooftops and other places inside cities to grow things. I know Paris is working hard on trying to green. It already has the second-most trees per capita in any other city, but they are trying to also incorporate these ideas of growing food inside the city on the sides of walls and things like that. It’s a general movement.

I appreciate that style of architecture when I see a lot of green, even when I’m walking past the house and it’s covered in Ivy. That’s so beautiful. That speaks something deeply within us. At the end of the day, animals and we are moving more to city life and green spaces. From my perspective, they have been medically proven to make us healthier. They decrease blood pressure and they make us less anxious.

It is something that I look forward to seeing, vertical farms and just more green space in general in cities. Whether we like it or not, that’s the way that our society is trending. We are all moving to cities. These cities are becoming larger and larger. How do we sustain them with the rapid increase in population? I like Denver a lot. It’s got a cool community. Is there a big futurist community over there?

Somewhat. We have decent universities here. CU does a lot of pretty good research. We have another school in mining, a school of mines pretty topnotch as far as that side of the world, but it’s not Boston or San Francisco but it is a trendsetter city. Like ski apparel. What’s a cool thing? It’s in the top five or so US cities as far as setting trends.

Yeah, I could see that. Every time I go out there, it’s a fun and nice experience. People are so nice like yourself. Have you been out to any other of these futurist conferences? What are you going to do that sparks your interest in this stuff?

I don’t think a whole lot about all my other futurist friends. Some of them I do, but there are segments of futurists who I don’t relate to. There are those who live how they wish the world would be and they ignore greed, selfishness, vested interests, and all the things. It’s idealistic. That’s just not the way. It’s got to make money. People aren’t just going to eat plants because they should eat plants. There are a lot of futurists who do that.

The industry itself, I call it an industry, was originally tainted by a particular way of thinking about the future that most futurists still use, or at least half. It’s almost junk, which is the idea of scenario planning. Scenario planning came from the RAND Corporation about the idea. It was hired by the US government. What happens if there’s an atomic attack from Russia? They created scenarios, but they took that from Hollywood.

They came up with this idea, “Hollywood, when they are working on scripts, they think of different endings to their thing. We will use the same idea, and we will do different endings to end games with a nuclear attack. We then think about how you evacuate a city. If you got twenty minutes, what would happen in this scenario?” Then they create a structure for that. It’s the worst case, best case, and most likely case.

That’s good for disasters. If there’s a volcano, war, or a break in the supply chain. It does have its value, but it doesn’t relate to technology. Technology doesn’t have the worst case, best case, and most likely case, it just is. Technology starts in R&D. If it’s good enough, people will invest in it to commercialize it, and then it gets adopted. It’s got to be faster, better, and cheaper in some respects. It’s very predictable.

Technology doesn’t have the worst case, the best case, or the most likely case. It just is technology starts in R&D. If it’s good enough, people will invest in it to commercialize it, and then it gets adopted.

If you look in technology and you see what’s going on in R&D you go, “That’s amazing. That’s better than what we have.” There is a good chance that will eventually be commercialized and adopted. It’s pretty predictable. It’s not like worst case or best case. It’s just like, “I have developed an approach to evaluating it. Where is it on a scale? How novel is it? How useful is it?”

I have a criteria which I judge, and I can see tipping points. It’s like, “The problem is this isn’t safe. This technology is cool, but it’s not as safe as what’s out there or reliable.” You can come up with new battery technology, but one of the things that happens with batteries is you can’t charge it 10,000 times. It’s not going to make it from the market point of view.

I use my more business thinking when I’m thinking about what’s going to make it, and then I’m watching for those tipping points happening. I see someone come like, “I have just dropped the cost, the way to do it, the production, or the scale to the point where it’s going to go, ‘This will go.’” There’s plenty of money out there. There’s so much money to invest in stuff. We don’t have a shortage of money. What we have had up to this point is the speed at which the R&D happens is slow. With the advent of AI, there has been an explosion in new materials, biology, and physics. That creates discoveries and discoveries lead to new inventions and new ways of doing things.

We have never been this before because the lab stuff is not much different than when Mendel was doing it or Thomas Edison was doing labs. I will go back to proteins where we started. Now, you can ask an AI, “I need a protein that does this. I need a molecular robot that will create this material for me. Combine these and make this molecule.” It either tells me, “One of your existing two million proteins will do that for you,” or it says, “Try these ideas,” and it will give you twenty different options of a new protein that doesn’t exist in nature that might work.” A human can look at those 20 and say, “Only 5 of those are practical,” and then they now focus on 5.

You compare that to what it used to take. If you said, “I want to come up with a protein that does X.” You would have had to experiment for years to try to figure that out. That has gone and accelerated crazy. The history has been an acceleration of adoption. Now we have got acceleration of science, discovery, and invention. That’s just starting, but it’s going to come in a big wave and completely change how fast things evolve.

Now we’ve got acceleration of science and discovery and invention, and that’s just starting. But it’s going to come in a big wave and just completely change how fast things evolve.

I would love to talk to you longer, but we are getting to the end of our time. At the end of every segment, I’d like to ask somebody three questions, because as you are talking, my mind is going crazy. I’m like, “I want to ask him about this.” It’s a great talk. I feel like my mind was blown multiple times, especially with that last bit that we had just talked, about the exponential growth that we are about to get into with AI. Quick question. You talked a little bit about tipping points. Do you see that tipping point happening in food right now, or are we a ways away from that?

With the meats and the growing of proteins, we have reached a tipping point. The price is there and the scale is there. It’s not going to go crazy, but it’s unstoppable. It’s inevitable and unstoppable. You can pass all the laws you want, but you are not going to be able to stop it because it’s worldwide. When you see something pop up all around the world with startups doing the same basic idea, it’s unstoppable. With the meat side, that’s there. Vertical farming with the Netherlands, the fact that they are on it and they have been commercially successful with it.

They are pushing so fast that increasing yields and the way they are doing it, as you say, without pesticides, without herbicides, that’s cool, and then they are making money. It’s sustainable that way. You are going to get resistance in places like the United States. Let’s face it, farming the way it’s done in the United States, but done the way it’s been done, has a lot of political power. The chemistry industry is so involved that the chemical industry runs farming as well, so expect resistance.

The other thing that I wanted to ask you about specifically with this stuff is when you wanted to get into futurism, when you are seeing all this stuff, as a budding person in this field myself, what can I do to learn more about not only food but the stuff that is coming down the pipeline?

There is a heavy-lifting part of being a futurist, which is reading and research, but I saw something, the World Economic Forum has created an AI that curates based on 300 different technologies. It’s not too expensive. I forgot what it’s about. It’s been $1,000, so I’m probably going to pony up and see how good it is, but that makes a lot of sense. ChatGPT can learn 3.5 million times faster than a human. Being able to read articles and then getting the gist of it. How good is it at filtering out promotion versus real, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just pure reviews or whatever, but that’s cool. For the average person, is it worth spending $1,000? I don’t know.

That’s what I do. I get listed. It’s already curated for me, so if you poke around, you can find what a singularity does as various. They all have their own biases, so I try to get stuff from Science Digest, and I read through them every day. I’m mostly reading the headlines and the summaries, and then if it’s something I have never heard of before or perks my interest, I dig in on that one. Over time, I have been doing this for several years. I have a pretty big base in my head of what’s new and what’s not new or what’s a slight advantage. I’m looking for those tipping points more than the average person. You would be overwhelmed by reading all of these science articles.

I’m not going to read the science space stuff. I will glance at it, but I choose to say it is exploding the physics, understanding of the physics of the universe, but there’s not a client out there who’s paying me to tell them about the physics of the universe, nor do I understand everything about quantum computing. I stay away from that, but I’m focused on things that are pragmatic that we do every day. Food, production, manufacturing, digital spaces, and things like that.

Last question. I ask all my guests this, but you know what personally gets me excited about the future is the present science fiction that is being written. Even in the past, I always tell people my idea of a utopia was influenced a lot by Star Trek. My idea of robots was influenced a lot by Asimov. My idea of Artificial Intelligence was influenced a lot by the cyberpunk genre. What is it in regards to fiction and even science fiction has produced a lot of influence on your life?

Star Trek is amazing how it did a good job of predicting. The holograph is coming. That’s what’s wild. Things like that. I love typical science fiction. I’m a little older than you, so I grew up on the black and white aliens coming and what does that mean? There wasn’t all horror. I’m trying to think that the day the world stood still was one where a robot comes and a satellite lands in Washington DC, and its mission is to stop the war. It’s these other societies in the universe that have agreed to have this policeman that prevents a war from happening on their planets. He’s coming to make that proposal for us that they can have this system that will stop us from killing one another. That’s a pretty interesting concept.

Certainly optimistic, which I appreciate. That’s the take-home message from this talk. I’m optimistic about all those things that you have talked about. I can’t wait to try some of these restaurants. I’m going to do my research and I will report back. I will let you know.

You should check out MIT. As I say, they are doing a lot of playing with these things as well.

I live just a few blocks from MIT, so I’m going to go ahead and do my research and try to reach out. Thank you so much for speaking with us. For those of you who are reading, it was great having you. I look forward to seeing you guys in the future. I’m so glad, everybody.

Thank you.

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About Michael Cushman

FSP - DFY 14 | Future Of FoodMichael Cushman is a Director of Consulting at the DaVinci Institute, a Futurist think-tank who loves helping others create the future. Over a 30-year career, as an executive, management consultant and thought leader, Michael has proven results in leading strategic and transformational excellence. Michael’s expertise includes creating award-winning products, successfully introducing profitable technology and process improvements at over 50 companies, including Fortune 500 companies such as Verizon, BT, Revlon, and Chevron. In his role as an executive, Michael served in leadership positions at several tech startup companies on their way to market success. He is a sought out expert and has appeared as a spokesperson on local and national TV. He often speaks on the power of foresight as competitive advantage for businesses, cities, and investors.


By: The Futurist Society