Donald J. Patterson

Computational Agroecology: Sustainable Food Ecosystem Design

Computational Agroecology: Sustainable Food Ecosystem Design screenshot

“Computational Agroecology” published in alt.chi

A team of people that I’m working with, led by Barath Raghavan, just had a paper accepted to alt.chi 2016! This is a portion of the CHI conference that is devoted to “controversial, risk-taking, and boundary pushing presentations at CHI”. The focus of the paper is to argue for the increased role of using Human-Computer Interaction and other computational design practices in a new field of sustainable food development called “Computational Agroecology” rooted in traditional agroecology. This is all in an attempt to get the incredible resources of computation that we have at our fingertips pointing at the problems that are coming due to global climate change.


We propose a new domain for sociotechnical system design: creating new ecosystems for food production that are sustainable while producing high yields. Drawing on the field of agroecology, we discuss techniques for allowing a range of users to design sustainable food ecosystems that can overcome the environmental costs of industrial agriculture. Industrial agriculture, relying on declining reserves of fossil fuels and generating increasingly costly externalities, is unsustainable. Agroecology cannot scale until practitioners have access to detailed knowledge of local conditions and appropriate agricultural strategies. This paper reviews the agricultural and sustainability challenges that motivate our research. It describes design problems that must be addressed to scale agroecology. We discuss our initial work, and sketch a program of research we believe will contribute to global food security.

Going Forward

I would like to see this work moving in the direction of a grass roots style Internet of Things in which sensors are deployed in the environment in a peer-to-peer fashion and layered with machine learning. I’m imagining lots of little sensor systems that can be remixed by people tweaking artificial intelligence models in the way that people started building out the web by tweaking HTML pages that they found. Kind of like a “View Source” button for the world.

A polyculture in a community garden in Urbana, IL.

Figure 1: A polyculture in a community garden in Urbana, IL. (Photo credit: Sarah Lovell.)

(permanentlocal copy)

C.V.: CR-25

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