Mr. Harper was a panelist for the Forum’s discussion on The Future of Food.
Caleb Harper is the principal investigator and director of the Open Agriculture (OpenAg) Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, where he works to change 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.
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.