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What if things start to think themselves?

Agriculture has undergone wave after wave of innovation since the tractor was invented in the late 1800s. Indeed, U.S. farms are so productive today that many Americans take the food on their tables for granted. Yet in coming decades, the world’s farmers will be hard-pressed to sustain these advances. By 2050, global population will top 9 billion. Keeping everyone fed and healthy will be a daunting challenge. Farmers will have to nearly double their output, while also ensuring more nutritious crops. Unless there is a fundamental shift in how food is grown and the way soil, water and other natural resources are managed, “Food security — especially for the world’s poorest — will be at risk,” the U.N. warns. The challenge could hit home for nearly everybody, as increasing food demand drives up prices for everything from cereal to steak. The New York Times says advances in information technology will help meet the needs of a more populous planet. Farmers have begun placing wireless sensors in fields to measure key vital signs, such as temperature, moisture and soil chemistry. They’re also using imagery from drones to assess the vitality of plants. And, just now, they’re beginning to employ a new generation of “Intelligent Edge” computers — located close to where critical information is collected. Top tech players are staking claims to pieces of an edge computing market that’s expected to hit nearly $20 billion over the next six years, according to Market Research Future. A wide range of industries is experimenting with the new technologies, from manufacturing, energy and defense to agriculture, transportation and health care. Driven by these technology advances, society is on the verge of a seismic shift. Until now, organizations and individuals have generally operated using limited information, following strategies that have proven to work for people or organizations similar to them. Now, a tsunami of previously uncaptured data is being caught and analyzed, further refining our knowledge from the general to the particular. For the first time, people can make decisions and take actions that are uniquely customized to match their needs. Think of it as optimized life.

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