Georgia Technology Summit Speakers Offer Literal and Digital Food for Thought

John Tabellione

Monday, March 27th, 2017

During last Thursday’s GTS conference at the Cobb Galleria Center in Atlanta, Keynote Speaker Caleb Harper made a quantum leap from his traditional-farming, family background when he spoke of his “Food Computer”—an open source, agricultural technology platform. Harper used the example of the 14-month, life cycle of an apple from harvest, to cold storage for months where it loses 90% of its antioxidants, eventual distribution and stocking at retail, vis-à-vis his food movement technology.  

On a parallel plane, Keynote Speaker, AT&T Mobility President and CEO Glenn Lurie, a former professional soccer player, virtually bounded across the dais to tout the unlimited future and features of the next generation of phones. Lurie talked passionately about an Apple iPhone, or any mobile device, classifying it as “a remote control to your life.” 


Following lunch, the Technology Hall of Fame of Georgia inducted Jeffrey C. Sprecher, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, Inc., and Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, as its newest member. 


Caleb Harper serves as Director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the M.I.T. Media Lab. There the food crusader extraordinaire utilizes his agricultural and architectural background to spell out a revolutionary concept he calls “climate democracy, where we design the climates that we want.” 

As background, Harper cited the average age of an American farmer as 58 years old. Only 2% of the population works directly in agriculture. Furthermore, for a variety of reasons, much of the world, including places such as Japan, Africa and India, is experiencing “a knowledge gap in farming they’ve never seen before.”

With assistance of a variety of subject matter experts in botany, big data, robotics, mechanical engineering, spectrography, etc., Harper explained how he started to produce the next generation of agriculture, using a controlled environment. The “Food Computer” codes climate, the nutrition of a plant, the size, shape, color, and texture and many other elements. To collect data Harper placed sensors inside the computer to inform him what's going on with regard to water, minerals, oxygen, etc.

As researchers learn the optimum growing conditions for a particular plant, they can create the appropriate microclimate for it. Oddly enough, according to Harper, Iceland has the ideal microclimate for growing cotton, and those specific growing conditions are now being re-produced in India at computer food factory. 

Harper’s lab has also been replicated by middle school children and high schoolers, as well as in other places around the world; for example, in an Amman, Jordan refugee camp, as well as in Germany, and in Japan, where one plant factory produces 1 million heads of lettuce per week. 

The open source data has amassed three and a half million data points per plant per grower, including plant tissue analysis for flavor. Harper believes that by sharing data, the need for heavy capitalization over time can be reduced by having industry standards set. Open agricultural communities of “nerd farmers” have sprung up, as have food computer clubs. Harper said, “In the last year we’ve had machines built in 20 countries on six continents. The only language we have in common is code.”

He concluded by saying, “The future of food is about creating a platform with open tools to share open knowledge to empower 1 billion new farmers to simply ask and answer the question, ‘What if…?’”


Lurie, who has spent 28 years in the mobile phone industry, called Atlanta “an incredible place to do business; it’s an incredible place for technology.” AT&T Mobility employs 24,000 employees throughout Georgia and the company has invested five-and-a-half billion dollars in Georgia over the past five years.

He went on to set the table for the future of mobility by reviewing how far the industry has come since the days of Bag Phones and the Razr series of mobile phones, up to the point where the iPhone changed the world ten years ago.

Going forward, Lurie noted that mobile devices will continue to change everything. “We’re expecting the smart phone business to grow 74% between now and 2022.” Things and applications may change; however, the mobile phone will still remain central to everyday life.

For example, in logical progression, Lurie spoke of how smart home products and services, will “talk” to mobile devices. “Today we have about 9 billion devices connected. We expect anything that has current running through it to be connected.” Who needs car keys, or home keys? Houses and automobiles will interact and be controlled by the phone (here Lurie interjected: “No texting and driving!”). 

He went on to call smart cities an “unbelievable untapped opportunity…a $41 trillion opportunity in the next 20 years. There’s not a single city on the planet that isn’t trying to solve and fix things with technology.” Lurie cited as smart municipality opportunities: water systems; coordinating traffic signal lights; law enforcement crime scene investigations; and, having cities and cars talking to each other, which have the potential to reduce traffic by 30-40%. He also gave examples of industrial and commercial businesses using smart devices for enhanced customer service and cost efficiencies.

“We’re going to get to a place where inanimate objects take care of us versus us taking care of them.” As a practical summary, Lurie elaborated how a mobile phone can learn a routine: it not only awakens a person, but it also knows to start the coffee; set the thermostat; provide the overnight news; highlight the day’s schedule; lock the doors and set the house alarm; start and warm the car; know the departure time and the current traffic situation, allowing time for ordering a coffee in advance; and inform when the kids get to school and return home. 

Lurie concluded, “This is about making people’s lives better.” 


Key results of the 11th annual State of the Industry report, conducted by Atlanta-based market research and strategic planning firm, Porter Research, were presented. Complete details are available at


The Technology Association of Georgia named the Top 10 Innovative Technology Companies in Georgia. The awards recognize Georgia-based technology companies for their innovation, financial impact, and their efforts at spreading awareness of the state’s technological initiatives throughout the U.S. and globally. The following link contains the complete list:

About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.