Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Transcriber: Leslie Gauthier Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • So data and analytics are dramatically changing our everyday lives.

  • Not just online,

  • not just in some distant future,

  • but in the physical world,

  • and in very real and tangible ways.

  • I spent the past 11 years of my life as a geek at MIT,

  • working in big data labs

  • that seek to use data science to study the physical world

  • and try to solve society's great problems.

  • The field of big data seeks to analyze massive pools of data

  • using computational tools to find patterns and trends.

  • Data can be a really extraordinary storyteller,

  • unveiling the hidden narratives of things in our everyday lives

  • that we never would have seen.

  • I find the personal stories of inanimate things brought to life

  • to be extraordinarily compelling.

  • I want to highlight, first, two projects from my time at MIT

  • that I think highlight this phenomenon really well.

  • The first is called Trash Track,

  • and in this project, we sought to better understand the waste-management system,

  • to answer the question

  • "Where does your trash go when you throw it away?"

  • Your old coffee cup or that flip phone

  • that you carried around in the early 2000s,

  • or a bagel or this morning's paper --

  • where do these things go?

  • This data didn't exist, so we had to create it.

  • We answered and then visualized this question

  • by installing small sensors into pieces of trash

  • and then throwing them into the waste system.

  • And what you're seeing here is the data.

  • Every line, every node that you see

  • is a single piece of trash moving through the city of Seattle,

  • and then across the state,

  • and then across the country,

  • as weeks and months go by.

  • And it's important to visualize this data,

  • because none of you are, probably, sitting here thinking,

  • "Yeah, that looks right."

  • (Laughter)

  • "That's working like it should, right?"

  • Because, no --

  • (Laughter)

  • What the data shows us is a highly inefficient system

  • whose inherent brokenness I don't think we really would have seen

  • had the sensors not done the journalism for us.

  • A second project that I'd have to highlight

  • has to do with creating robots that dive into sewers

  • and sample wastewater.

  • I know that sewage kind of gets a bad rap,

  • but it's actually kind of awesome,

  • because it can tell us an incredible amount

  • about the health of our communities.

  • This technology was spun out by a group call Biobot Analytics,

  • who's creating a cutting-edge technology

  • to turn our sewers into modern-day health observatories.

  • Their goal is to study opioids within the sewage

  • to better understand consumption in cities.

  • And this data is key,

  • because it really helps cities understand where people are using,

  • how to allocate resources

  • and the effectiveness of programming over time.

  • Once again, the technology that's built into this machine

  • is pulling back the curtain

  • and showing us something about our cities that we never would have seen without it.

  • So it turns out, as we see,

  • that big data is really everywhere --

  • even in your toilet.

  • And so now that we've talked about trash and sewage,

  • let's move on ...

  • to food.

  • (Laughter)

  • A year ago, I left MIT to pursue a passion in food,

  • and in 2017,

  • started a company with my husband, called Family Dinner.

  • The goal of our company is to create community around local food

  • and the people who grow it.

  • To make this happen, we're using data analytics,

  • automation and technology

  • to build a distributed network of local farms

  • and to make improvements on the food system.

  • So what we see here

  • is that the broad techniques and the mission of what we're trying to do

  • is really not dissimilar from the work at the MIT labs.

  • Which brings us to a critical question:

  • Why exactly would someone leave a very promising career

  • at one of the top urban science labs in the world

  • to drive carrots around in her mom's Acura?

  • (Laughter)

  • It's a great car.

  • Because I believe that the story of local food

  • needs to be understood, told and elevated,

  • and in many ways,

  • I think that nerds like us are really uniquely poised to tell it.

  • So where are we starting?

  • What's our starting point?

  • The current national food system is optimized for one thing only,

  • and that's corporate profit, right?

  • And think about that.

  • The most compelling reason for food companies to exist

  • is not to feed hungry people,

  • it's not to make delicious-tasting food.

  • It's profit.

  • And that has detrimental effects at all levels of our food system.

  • The antibiotics and pesticides that are being put into our food

  • are detrimental to our health.

  • Price pressure is forcing small farms out of business.

  • In fact, a lot of the things that you think about farms

  • no longer exist.

  • Farms don't look like farms, they look like factories.

  • And at the end of the day,

  • the quality of the food that we're eating really suffers, too.

  • A factory-farm tomato may kind of look like a regular tomato:

  • bright red exterior ...

  • But when you bite into it,

  • the taste and texture just leave you wanting.

  • And we know that perhaps the greatest tragedy in all of this

  • is that between 30 and 40 percent of this food is just wasted ...

  • thrown away.

  • That is 1.6 billion tons.

  • I can't even wrap my head around that number.

  • 1.6 billion tons.

  • That's 1.2 trillion dollars a year

  • in wasted food.

  • That is the cost of on-demand eating

  • and convenience

  • and the broken food system.

  • Now, where's this waste happening?

  • Where's all this waste coming from?

  • Well, we know that it happens in the field

  • when you don't pick the sexiest-looking potatoes.

  • We know that it happens in transit,

  • at the warehouses,

  • in the grocery stores.

  • And finally, on our own kitchen counters,

  • when we determine that that spotty, brown banana no longer looks so yummy.

  • All that waste, all that effort.

  • Food is planted,

  • grown, harvested, shipped,

  • and then just thrown away.

  • We think that there has to be a better way.

  • And so how to we improve upon this?

  • How do we make a better system?

  • In order to do this,

  • we understand that we need to eliminate waste

  • in the food supply chain.

  • We need to get data in the hands of farmers,

  • so that they can make better predictions.

  • So they can, you know, kind of compete with the big guy.

  • And then finally,

  • we need to prize, as a company,

  • quality and taste above everything,

  • so that people really value the delicious food on their plates.

  • This, we believe, is the better system.

  • This is the better way.

  • And the path to that better way is paved with data.

  • To highlight all of this, I want to tell the tale of two tomatoes.

  • We'll talk about them one by one.

  • A tomato in itself contains a beautiful snapshot

  • of everything you might want to know about the life cycle of that fruit:

  • where it was grown, what it was treated with,

  • nutritional value,

  • miles traveled to get to your plate,

  • CO2 emissions along the way.

  • All of that information,

  • all those little chapters in one small fruit.

  • It's very exciting.

  • This is tomato number one.

  • This is the guy that you'll find in sub shops, supermarkets

  • and fast-food joints around the world.

  • It's got a really long and complicated backstory.

  • It's been treated with a cocktail of, like, a dozen pesticides

  • and it has traveled at least 1,600 miles to get to your house.

  • And the image here is green,

  • because these tomatoes are picked when green and hard as a rock,

  • and then they are gassed along the way

  • so that when they arrive at the destination,

  • they look bright and shiny and red and ripe.

  • All of that effort,

  • all of that agricultural innovation and technology

  • to create a product that is entirely without taste.

  • And onto the second tomato in our tale.

  • This is the local version of the fruit.

  • Its story is much, much shorter.

  • This guy was grown by Luke Mahoney and his family at Brookford Farm

  • in Canterbury, New Hampshire.

  • It's got a pretty boring backstory.

  • It was planted,

  • sat in the sun

  • and then it was picked.

  • (Laughter)

  • That's it.

  • Like, you wouldn't want to --

  • yeah, there's not much more to that.

  • And it traveled maybe 70 miles to get your plate.

  • But the difference is dramatic.

  • I want you think about the last time you ate a fresh, summer tomato.

  • And I know we're all covered in our jackets,

  • but think about it.

  • The last time you ate a tomato from the garden.

  • It's warm from the sun,

  • it's richly red,

  • maybe it smells like dirt.

  • There's something nostalgic and almost magical in that experience.

  • The taste and the flavor are incomparable.

  • And we really don't have to travel super far to get it.

  • Now this story extends up the food chain,

  • from the fruits and the vegetables that are on our plate

  • to the animals and the animal products that we consume.

  • What goes into raising them,

  • and more importantly, what doesn't go into raising them,

  • is critically important.

  • Luke and his family have 60 cows.

  • They use traditional methods.

  • They do it the old way:

  • pasture-raised,

  • no hormones, no antibiotics,

  • hay for days.

  • And what they're doing here is just treating cows like they're cows,

  • not like they're in a science experiment.

  • He's raising animals the way that his grandfather

  • and his grandfather would have.

  • And at the end, it's just better.

  • It's better for the animals;

  • it's better for the environment.

  • Luke is not optimizing for profit or price,

  • but for taste and for humanity.

  • And what you're thinking is, "There's already a solution to this.

  • It's the farmer's markets."

  • The ones that many of you visit

  • and the ones that I really enjoy.

  • They are a wonderful, but, in many ways, suboptimal solution.

  • For us as the consumers, it's kind of great, right?

  • You go,

  • there's this beautiful bounty of food,

  • you get the warm and fuzzies for supporting a local farm

  • and you get the experience of trying something new and trying diverse products.

  • And inevitably, there's some guy playing the ukulele

  • somewhere in the background.

  • (Laughter)

  • But for the farmers, this presents a lot of risk, right?

  • You wake up at four.

  • You pack your truck, you hire a team,

  • you get to your stall,

  • but you have no guarantees

  • that you're going to move your product that day.

  • There's too many variables in New England.

  • For example, the weather,

  • which is just, like, a little bit unpredictable here.

  • The weather is one of the many X factors

  • that determine whether or not a market will be worth it for the farmers.

  • Every time, they roll the dice.

  • And there's another option.

  • Here, we're talking about CSAs:

  • community-supported agriculture.

  • In this model, customers pay up front,

  • bearing the financial risk for the farms.