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“The future is no longer an extension of the past — or the present,” said author and The Futures Agency CEO Gerd Leonhard of Zurich, Switzerland, in a keynote address at the Future of Farming Dialog. Artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and human genome editing have changed the game. Thus, business as usual is dead and food is next, he said. “A fundamental transformation of today’s global system is imminent.”

Today’s technology, innovation, and automation have led us to a world of hyperconnectivity — the state of being constantly connected person to person, person to machine, and machine to machine. Hyperconnectivity is everything, he said, adding that anything that can be digitized or automated will be; for anything that can’t, the human factor becomes extremely valuable.

As such, he said, “this could be heaven or this could be hell.” There can be enormous potential if we distribute the benefits fairly, he said. But technology, itself, has no ethics; it is morally neutral until we apply it. “If we find a clever way of using it and use a wise approach, it can be good. But we need to keep the human inside ... we need to embrace technology, but not become it.”

Technology can provide tremendous opportunity for the food industry, so much so that “the question is no longer if technology can do something, but why,” Leonhard said. What should be automated and what shouldn’t? Should there be an international digital ethics council? Millennials are driving a change to a focus on 3 Ps: people, planet, profit; are all three being considered in technological applications?

New technologies provide powerful opportunities, but, Leonhard said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”