The Ag & Food Tech Safari


By Jelle Dijkema

On Sunday, June 21st, a group of 18 Dutch participants gathered at the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in San Francisco for a the kick-off session of the Ag & Food Tech Safari organized by the NOST (the Netherlands Office for Science and Technology) in San Francisco. The week long schedule was packed with interesting speakers, great participants and amazing company visits. Our first speaker was Gigi Wang, an entrepreneur guru, who introduced the Silicon Valley culture and how companies should care about gaining people’s trust. It’s all about transparency and openness. How to become an entrepreneur in the agri-food business is William Rosenzweig’s expertise. Rosenzweig is the Dean of the Food Business School, part of the Culinary Institute of America. He elaborated on the importance and the possibilities of creating a successful business in the agri-food sector.

Monday started early with a bus trip down to Palo Alto to visit the Institute For The Future (IFTF). Devin Fidler spoke globally on the futuristic approach to change by IFTF and focused in on the future of food innovation. IFTF doesn’t try to predict the future, but provides tools to deal with trends that will change our future. “Foresight, insight, action” is IFTF’s mantra and Rajnish Khanna of i-Cultiver added to this by explaining the need for an integral approach to connecting soil health to human health for the future of our food system. He pleads that our food system starts with soil and the micro-organisms that are present to maintain a healthy soil to produce healthy food, and ends in the gut within the human body where the food is eventually digested.
Cisco’s Joel Barbier concluded the morning speeches on how the Internet of Everything and the Internet of Things work and how it can be used to assess business opportunities.

In the afternoon, the group had the opportunity to do two company visits. Ron Shigeta from San Francisco-based biotechnology accelerator IndieBio gave an insight in the way Silicon Valley treats their start-ups. In a matter of only four months, entrepreneurs, sometimes with just an idea, get a cash infusion of $100K to start here and end with a presentable prototype of their product in front of a panel of investors.
The second company visit, Google’s SolverForX, approaches the idea development in a different manner. The people at SolverForX actively scout for projects, or “moonshot” as they call it, that can make the world better. Whether it’s an idea to eradicate or better treat human diseases or new ways to deal with climate change, any idea, small or large, SolveforX will connect these projects to a wide network of experts, mentors, investors that will help further develop this idea into a product.

The day was concluded in the relaxed setting of the SOMA StrEatFood Park, a foodtruck park in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. During dinner a panel of experienced telecom executives discussed the Silicon Valley innovation mindset, how to collaborate with startups and what the biggest misunderstandings are about the Silicon Valley mindset.

Farmobile Founder Heath Gerlock flew in especially for the Agri Food Tech Safari

Farmobile Founder Heath Gerlock flew in especially for the Agri Food Tech Safari

Tuesday started off with a presentation by Farmobile at the Consulate General of the Netherlands. Farmers know farm data is valuable, but there are a lot of questions and uncertainties around giving this data away or selling it to large corporations. Farmobile puts the farmer in charge of its own data. The company helps the farmer with data logging and creates a market place where a farmer can decide against what price it wants to sell its data. This business model resonated well with the Dutch group. After this the group split up. Half of the group went to the Carnegie Institute of Washington, department of Plant

Biology, on the Stanford Campus. Scientists of various disciplines discussed the importance of healthy soil on plant development and the many interactions in the plant-soil-microbiome continuum with its links to nutrition. The other half of the group visited IBM to hear about the food innovation program that this traditional technology company is getting into. Followed by a panel in the influence and impact of social media on developments in the agri-food sector, this morning was definitely marked by its variety on approaching innovation in agriculture and food from different angles.

In the afternoon again two company visits were on the agenda. Mattson Foods develops new food products for large and small organizations in their ideation lab. Clients are as large as Starbucks (the Frappucino was ideated here) and as small as the local entrepreneur who is looking for help with her new granola bar product formulation. The people at Mattson Foods see a trend in consumer behavior where people move away from ‘diet’ labeled product and go back to ‘real’ food. Additionally, the awareness of ‘healthy food’ is becoming more and more apparent. People demand the right to know what is in their food.
Lyrical Foods, the other company on the agenda, was a good example of a company providing a novel food product. Last year the company launched their brand Kite Hill Foods which is a range of traditional dairy products like cheese, but instead of using milk the products are completely based on almonds and other nuts. Lyrical Foods believes these products are better for the environment as well, bypassing the animal farm system, thereby decreasing the pressure on natural resources like land and water: “You shouldn’t have to choose between good taste and good ethics.”

The evening was spent with Roger Royse, founder of Roger Royse’s AgTech incubator where the Dutch participants got the opportunity to listen to five venture capitalists and got to practice their pitch in front of the group. The VCs explained that they don’t invest in a product, they invest in an opportunity. This opportunity isn’t necessarily equal to the solutions that are needed to tackle problems in the agri-food sector. This point of view resulted in debates between the Dutch group and the American investors. It seemed to be the case that for VCs it’s easier to invest in solutions that overcome short-term problems, then thinking about solutions that are beneficial for the long-term only.

On Wednesday The Mixing Bowl Hub’s second annual “Food IT: From Macro to Micro” conference took place at the Alumni Center at the Stanford Campus. Besides more rounds of pitches by savvy entrepreneurs that were coached by VCs the major themes in our food system were addressed with more panels. On the day’s menu were the following topics: precision agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries, local food and logistics, nutrition, and introducing new food items. There was a great opportunity to mingle and network whilst flocking the outside area visiting the demonstration booths. A group of New Zealand Maori enriched the event by providing a traditional Haka to open and close the event fiercely.

Thursday the group traveled to the University of California’s Davis campus. Davis is among the top three best agricultural universities in the world, sharing the number one and number 2 spots with Wageningen alternatively. The Netherlands is top dog when it comes to agriculture, so this excursion was a nice opportunity for the Dutch to see what top scientists in California work on. A tour of the UC Davis Russell Ranch, a 300 acre research farm, followed by seven 7-minute presentations by UC Davis professors working on Food and Ag research rounded out the morning.
After a quick olive oil tasting the Dutch group headed back to San Francisco to attend the FoodBytes! Summit. This event, organized by SF NewTech in collaboration with RaboBank N.A. involved a whole afternoon of pitches by ten Food and Ag entrepreneurs.

Dutch entrepreneur August de Vogt from NFDWSTD

Dutch entrepreneur August de Vogt from NFDWSTD

One of the entrepreneurs was our own Dutch August de Vogt from NFDWSTD who also participated in part of the Safari. De Vogt presented his app that helps supermarkets reduce their food waste by updating residents in the area on food discounts when the food is close to its expiration date.

Friday, the last day of the Safari, started off with a re-cap by the Dutch group. Everybody shared the experiences and insights they acquired over the week and synthesized this into a list of things learned from the Silicon Valley ecosystem and the comparison with the Netherlands. On the one hand the Dutch participants acknowledged the passionate atmosphere that covers Silicon Valley when it comes to adopting new technology, the eagerness for developing a business and how easy it is to get in touch with investors. On the other hand these Dutch representatives assured themselves of what the Netherlands has to offer, which is a solid foundation of knowledge and a very sincere attitude towards innovation: with the focus on necessary solutions to actual problems. The group constructed a follow-up plan which every individual in the group is going to work on to improve the agri-food innovation ecosystem in the Netherlands. This mind-set is probably a key to success. The Dutch are very keen on reaching out to learn from others and collaborate, which is in contrast to a general Silicon Valley’s attitude where everybody is expected to come to California. This difference in attitude is very interesting, to say the least.

After these insights the Dutch group traveled up to Napa Valley and visited the campus of the Culinary Institute of America, where the next generation of professionals in the food industry are getting their degrees. Conveniently located in the region’s wine area the week was concluded with a toast of fine wine at Napa Valley’s oldest winery: Charles Krug. Like the grape vines that grow in Napa’s rich soil, the Ag and Food Tech Safari provided a solid foundation underneath the California sun where good insights came to fruition and will contribute to an exciting end product.

Anne Bruinsma Hackwerk Advies
August de Vogt NFDWSTD
Corné van Aaken VAA ICT Consultancy
Diederik Bruins Fortified
Gabriël van der Kruijk Rijk Zwaan
Jan Hadders Crop-R
Javier Lomas Durante Sigrow
Jeroen van Eck Mangrove
Ko van de Walle Lely
Lennard Duijvestijn Landgoed Roggebotstaete
Paul Geurts WUR
Pieter van Hout ZLTO
Raphaël Hoogvliets Bureau YAP
Rene Bink ZTRDG
René Paré MAD Emergent Art Center
Rob Baan Koppert Cress
Robert Jan Marringa Agrifood Capital
Sandra Ronde De Streekboer, Bureau YAP
Posted in Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, Food, Startups | Tagged , ,

Observations on Data Privacy

This event took place on June 23, 2015 at the Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco. The following write-up is a liberal summary of what was discussed.

The Netherlands Office for Science & Technology (NOST) Silicon Valley is all about innovation. Most, if not all of these innovations involve software and large sets of data, each with their own data privacy implications. Complexity will rapidly grow even further as machines get connected (think Internet of Everything) and more intelligent. In the not too distant future, your fridge will be talking to you expresso machine, your phone, car navigation system and favorite grocery store. And what about if your health insurance company were to provide you with a robot? What information is the robot collecting while it is taking care of you, and how much of this data is being shared with your insurance company? With questions like these and many others, it is about time to have a discussion on Data Privacy.


So, NOST organized a Conversation on Data Privacy, June 23 at the Consulate General in San Francisco. Among the audience was a group of Nyenrode Business School Executive MBA students on Business & IT. Four speakers discussed Data Privacy from very diverse backgrounds. Mark Nelson, of Stanford’s Peace Innovation Lab, David Kim of Lumiata and UC Berkeley’s New Media Lab Greg Niemeyer each discussed the virtues of big data in support of peace, healthcare and education respectively, as well as their resulting data privacy implications. Adi Kamdar of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) very eloquently provided insights on data privacy awareness, or the lack thereof, and the role of EFF in that respect. Jurriaan Kamer, one of the Nyenrode Executive MBA students did a terrific job moderating the – at times heated – debate.


It’s hard to summarize or even begin to draw conclusions of the most engaging and energized discussion that ensued. So I’ll mention a couple of viewpoints that came up. One of them is the observation that realistically a present-day End User License Agreement (EULA) might as well read something like “Sooner rather than later, please expect us to spill some of all of your beans. Be it, because we can’t help it, or deliberately, per our 53 page user agreement you’re about to sign if you want this device to work”. One could pretty much compare such a EULA with a digital equivalent of the Miranda Rights (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do may be used against you, etc.”). The first part of this mock EULA also goes to show that data privacy depends a lot on data security. So the two are impossible to separate. Existing healthcare data protection rules under HIPAA already put a tremendous burden on the companies that deal with patient data. This all but uninsurable risk will result in added cost to the system, and thus to its patients. And the aftermath of the Haiti eartquake demonstrated that strict application of HIPAA actually resulted in suboptimal tracking and treatment of earthquake victims.

But even in a perfectly secure environment, there are plenty of data privacy issues, that you may not realize at the time you hand over your data. This brings us to a second observation: there is a clear lack of understanding and awareness of how much we have already given up. Some examples brought up by the audience and panel members clearly demonstrated that fact. For example, a company like Über is apparently able to draw some very interesting conclusions from its user and driver data. And the bankruptcy of Radio Shack brought to light – in case we forgot all about it – that data really is money. Without this notion, the free internet wouldn’t even exist in its current form. But it took a decision by the Bankruptcy Court to prevent Radio Shack customer data from being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Bottom line, throughout this debate, the operative word is TRUST. Ultimately, companies, and other parties handling your data will have to earn your trust. In such a complex environment, their drive for data protection will need to come from within, instead of being forced by – eternally lagging – regulations, telling them to do so.
NOST would like to thank the speakers for sharing their invaluable insights. We will be delving more into data privacy during the second half of 2015. This conversation provided a great starting point for further analysis.
John van den Heuvel – NOST San Francisco

This event was co-sponsored by Nyenrode Business University.

Local Nyenrode Alumni Ambassador Albert van Servellen shows a handmade miniature of the Nyenrode castle to Deputy Consul General Djoeke Adimi

Posted in CleanTech, Digital Health, Electric mobility, Energy, High Tech Systems and Materials, Mobility, Policy, Science | Tagged , , ,

Diana’s Onlife World and her Grandfather’s Robot

From the book Smart technologies and the end(s) of law, by Mireille Hildebrandt.

Diana’s Onlife World

Early morning Diana wakes up to the sound and light of her alarm clock that has been tuned to her mild winter depressions, lifting her mood by an increasing intensity of light and massaging her brains with music that has been shown to invigorate her at that point of the day. The house has woken up slightly earlier (turning on the heating, setting the coffee, and sorting out upcoming assignments and incoming communications).

While she goes about her morning routine the house picks up her mood and prepares the roadmap for her smart car, depending on whether she is ready for a high adrenalin ride that may save her time or would prefer a routine trip that will take longer due to traffic jams. The fridge compares notes with her cupboards on this morning’s caloric, fibre and nutrient intake to calculate how she could balance her diet during the rest of the day – forwarding the daily diagnosis to her smart phone, which will get in touch with whatever food store or restaurant she may decide to visit for lunch or dinner.

After walking the dog Diana is advised to take public transport as the house finds her nervous and a potential risk for dangerous driving. Diana is free to take the car – since the inferred danger does not cross a certain threshold – but her insurance premium may rise if the car indeed detects fatigue or risky behavior. Besides, if she takes public transport she will burn more calories, thus allowing an extra serving of her favorite pasta or whatever else she may like to have later that day. So, Diana opts for the light rail that takes her straight to her first appointment.

What’s in a name?
The first appointment has been confirmed by her personal digital assistant (PDA), that is distributed between her smart phone, the system running her smart home, the smart car, her ubiquitous computing office platform, while being on speaking terms with other systems, like those for traffic control and healthcare, commercial and governmental service providers, as well as monitoring systems for private and public safety and security. The close relationship between Diana and her PDA has caused her to give it a name, a common habit amongst those who have entrusted a variety of tasks to their PDAs. Hers is called Toma.

When she thinks of it, Toma is like a friend, a close member of the family, a butler and – sometimes – like a government official or an insurance broker. Whatever the likeness to all these others in her life, there are many differences also, one of which is that no other person has so many details of her private and social life and no other person provides so much calculated advice. Though she is keenly aware that Toma is not a person and though she ‘knows’ that Toma does not ‘care’ about whether Diana follows its advice, for all practical purposes Toma often does resemble a person. Especially since the software has been updated with synthetic emotions, Diana experiences feelings of joy and pride, as well as regret and shame when she is rewarded or rebuked for her behaviors.

Mobile office life
During the ride in the light rail Diana picks up on the details of her meeting, scanning the automatically composed summary of a report, sent to her office late last night – uploaded into Toma, which has put the doc onscreen on the back of her suitcase (monitors and terminals have been replaced by surfaces capable of displaying text, graphs and images). The report has its own summary, authored by the consultant who wrote the report, but Toma has a personalized algorithm that screens the doc for novel insights or unfamiliar facts. It skips conventional knowledge and highlights what is relevant for Diana’s inferred purpose. The summary works with images, graphs and text, to visualize patterns found within the doc that may be relevant for Diana. When Diana enters the office she is greeted by the receptionist, with whom she has a friendly chat (Toma has arranged this, knowing that this will relax Diana who still seems nervous). She runs into two colleagues on the way to the working spot that has been allocated for her meeting. They discuss the targets set for the upcoming period, exchanging views on their feasibility and informally testing each other’s competitive advantages. Diana is a sales representative of a large hotel conglomerate, working on the high end of the market: selling classy hotel apartments on a time-sharing basis. Part of her salary is fixed; the other part depends on her actual achievements. Due to the general downfall of the economy – we are talking about the aftermath of the 2020 financial crisis – everyone knows that the least effective sales executives will have to leave. Toma notes that the talk with her colleagues leaves Diana full of energy: she senses that she has been doing very well compared to the others. This triggers an intervention in Diana’s agenda for the day; Toma schedules a lunch meeting with a troublesome client that has been trying to contact Diana. Because of her nervousness Toma has been slow in responding, but now the PDA sees a chance.

A call for help
Diana’s day continues in a perfunctory manner. Her meetings work out well, including the lunch, and at the end of the day she is both tired and deeply satisfied. Riding back home in the light rail Toma registers a call from her ex-husband about their 6-year-old daughter Lindsay, over whom they have joint custody. Since the call is not urgent but must be answered tonight, Toma does not bother Diana until she reaches home, giving her time to reset after a hectic day. When she returns the call, Tom (her ex) asks her whether she can pick up Lindsay from school the next day, because he had an accident while playing squash with a colleague. Lindsay is staying with Tom this week, but as he will have to be at the hospital he hopes that Diana can take over.

When Diana checks with Toma she encounters strong rejection; she has an important meeting with a client who will not appreciate a change of plan. Toma has already checked the regular nannies who might step in, but their PDAs are offline. Diana begins to exhibit signs of a mild panic, being confronted with what she sees as incompatible duties, and Toma comes to the rescue with a convenient solution: Tom will try to reach one of his nannies, while Toma will continue trying to contact those of Diana.

Music sounds from the living room, as Toma has turned on the audio, programming some light jazz, known to soothe Diana’s anxieties. It is the kind of music that is known to trigger Diana’s sense of independence, downplaying her worries about being a good mother. Sensing her exhaustion Toma has ordered a meal that combines a tasty bite with the right balance of calories, fibres and nutrients: a fusion of a yellow Thai vegetable curry and an Italian salad of arugula, balsamic dressing and Parmesan cheese. Diana pours herself a glass of Muscat white wine after having the food and her mind finally drifts off into a pleasant oblivion.
Tom has found a nanny for Lindsay, though he would still prefer that Diana take over, knowing that Lindsay is easily upset with a change of routine and would prefer to be in her mother’s ambit. Toma decides not respond to the message, thus preventing it from reaching Diana. The PDA infers that it is in Diana’s interest not to worry over her daughter, assuming that Lindsay will be in safe hands anyway.

Of mother and daughter
The next day Diana receives an alarm message from Lindsay’s school – requesting her to respond as soon as possible. PDAs have a default setting that allows five persons to override whatever the PDA infers to be a correct response, bypassing the filters of the PDA with an immediate sensory input to its user. Diana gets a small electrical shock in her left underarm (signaling an alarm from her daughter) and picks up her smart phone. Toma is temporarily set back to a passive mode, registering Diana’s behaviors but unable to interfere until Diana switches off the alarm. It turns out that Lindsay has fainted and – according to her PDA – is showing signs of anxiety and confusion since she woke up this morning. To recover and rebalance, Lindsay’s PDA urges that her mother comes over and takes charge.
Diana instructs Toma to cancel her appointments for the day and sets off to bring Lindsay home from school. Though Toma strongly advises against driving, Diana takes the car because this gives her a feeling of control. Halfway the car begins to slow down, warning Diana that she is crossing the threshold of dangerous driving, meaning that within 5 minutes the car will stop functioning. Diana pulls herself together, focusing on the traffic and calming herself with the certainty that she has made the right decision. The car responds positively by returning to the default mode, allowing Diana to finish her trip to school. When Diana approaches the school Toma signals her arrival to Lindsay’s PDA (called Dina). Dina registers an immediate relief in Lindsay, who has been taken to a small office next to the director’s office. Her heartbeat and breathing return to normal, muscle tension is reduced and stress hormone levels diminish.
As part of a public-private research programme all children are monitored in terms of their behavioural biometrics, especially the workings of the autonomic nervous system. It is hoped that this will allow prediction of various diseases, ADHD, depression and psychopathology in adult life. Such predictions could eventually justify early intervention to prevent undesirable developments, paving the way for a less conflict-ridden society. The immediate justification for the monitoring, however, is the chance to anticipate behaviors, making it easier for the PDA as well as parents, nannies, teaching staff and doctors to tailor their responses to the child. All significant others and professionals that are in contact with the child have context-specific access to parts of the database that stores and aggregates the child’s states and behaviors. From the age of six a child has partial access to her own data, which access gradually extends to full access at the age of 14. This includes access to the group profiles that her data match with (indicating potential health or other problems).
Before Diana reaches Lindsay, the director of the school invites Diana into his office for a brief talk. He expresses serious concern about the mental well-being of Lindsay, based on the type of group profiles she matches. Her behaviors and biometric data match with personality disorders that could seriously interfere with her ability to focus on schoolwork and hamper her social life. In his opinion Diana and Tom will have to work out a more structured life for Lindsay that would restore her self-confidence. Diana listens to the director and tells him that she will consult with Tom, though they have already made every effort to structure their own lives for the sake of Lindsay. Both have demanding careers, which they cannot give up easily, since this is how they canafford the excellent school that Lindsay attends. Diana goes to her daughter who is very happy to see her mother and glad to come home with her. They spend the afternoon having tea and some healthy snacks, exchanging gossip about school, taking the dog for a long walk and playing with some of Lindsay’s favorite non-robotic dolls. They have both switched their PDAs to passive mode for the time being – wanting some undisturbed mother-daughter quality time.
Toma has contacted Tom’s PDA to notify it of the changes of plans,such that the nanny who would have taken care of Lindsay can be called off without disturbing Tom (a message awaits him on his cell phone). Toma has also screened the coming week’s agenda to assess how today’s postponed meetings can be fitted in or replaced by teleconferencing. The PDA assesses the damage that this ‘free’ afternoon has caused Diana in terms of missed opportunities, delayed responses and loss of reputation.

Animosity towards PDAs
Diana and Lindsay have had a long talk after their playful and restful afternoon. From what Lindsay tells her Diana gathers that she would rather attend a less reputable school if that were the price of her mother investing more time in her and less time in her career. Lindsay also objects to the fact that Toma often shields Diana from her daughter, as if there is some kind of competition going on for Diana’s attention between the PDA and her daughter. When Diana tucks Lindsay in she promises her that she will think about these things and discuss them with her father, ending the day with reading her stories from one of her favorite books.

Sports life
Later that week Diana goes for her weekly session at the gym. As the reader may guess, Toma has communicated with the gym and figured out which series of exercises would be best. Toma has noticed that Diana has been sitting at her desk for long working hours and has a stiff lower back that is giving her problems, so the exercises are tuned to warming and flexing the muscles of her stomach and lower back. The weights and other settings of the appliances in the gym automatically shift to Diana’s preferences and Toma has calculated the duration of each exercise to prevent both under and overly strenuous exercise. All relevant biometrics are recorded, stored and communicated to Toma, as well as matched with relevant predictive profiles. To qualify for a reduced subscription to the gym Diana can allow the gym to sell her data for marketing purposes, and to qualify for special services from her health insurance she can allow the gym to exchange her data with the insurance company. Also, if Diana consents, she can provide a personal profile that can be used to find matching profiles of other members with whom she could socialize after the workout. Some gyms have even integrated an optional dating service, hoping to increase their competitive advantage.

Grandfather and Robot

Jacob, Diana’s 96-year-old grandfather, has a rather close relationship with the PDA that runs his household and monitors his health, but also serves as a social companion. This PDA is embedded; it is a robot. It does not look like a human being, but clearly resembles mammals. Jacob has named his caretaker Henry. It is constructed on the basis of soft robotics, meaning that its morphology helps to produce smooth and efficient movements, and the combination of hard and soft components mean that it will not easily accidentally hurt a human person. Henry can lift Jacob, and wash and feed him if necessary. Next to its soft morphology, its machine learning capacities enable it to sense what kind of pressure is effective in helping Jacob without hurting him. Jacob has developed a trusting relationship with the artefact. Actually they have a lot of fun. The fact that Henry spies on Jacob, to anticipate and prevent health risks, has given rise to a joking relationship because Henry also advices Jacob to cheat a bit on his diets if that improves his moods. Henry has learnt to jest with Jacob, when telling him that a small glass of single malt around 5 pm may interfere with his medication but will surely increase the quality of this life. To win his trust Henry has been known to keep some of Jacob’s secrets from family and friends, though perhaps not from the insurance company that pays for his continued service. Jacob understands the deal and appreciates the privacy this affords him, even if it is a contextual privacy that does allow the insurance to remain up to date.

Henry runs on proprietary code that keeps the device in continuous contact with proprietary online databases, while also enabling exchange of information with similar devices from the same service provider, and with a number of healthcare service providers (Jacob’s family doctor, the medical specialists that treat his various conditions, the insurance that covers the cost, the pharmacies that supply his medications, and the local nursing centre that provides him with hands-on medical care). Henry is an example of what cloud robotics can do for us. Because of the complexity of the various relationships and their mutual interference, it would obviously not be possible to program Henry in a deterministic way, and in fact it is also undoable to rely on supervised machine learning. Henry operates in part on unsupervised learning algorithms and neural nets that enable improvisation and creative negotiations between the various ends it serves: Jacob’s health, the profitability of health insurance, data collection for medical research, Jacob’s wellbeing and the various interests of his family and friends. Though its – largely autonomic – operations make Henry somewhat unpredictable, the overall performance is assumed to be better than it could ever be if human programmers had to foresee every possible scenario that might play out. To some extent the more unpredictable Henry becomes, the more reliable it is – though there are obvious limits to this. Nevertheless, Henry takes its own decisions, compatibilizing the various goals set by its designers. One of these goals is that Henry must sustain its own existence, since Jacob’s life may depend on it.

A robot decides
One day Jacob suffers a mild stroke. In the old days this might have gone unnoticed, as it is a minor infarct that does not immediately impair his health. Based on his connections with large databases, Henry has figured out that more serious harm is to be expected, statistically speaking. The obvious way to proceed would be to do some machine-to-machine talk with the agent systems of the various healthcare services mentioned above, to diagnose the health risks and to plan a possible intervention. On the basis of similar data mining operations, Henry, however, also figures out that Jacob will not appreciate the medical exams this would involve. Jacob may actually become depressed and he might even turn against Henry for telling on him.
Henry tries to calculate the best decision and confronts conflicting interests of Jacob, the healthcare institution that ‘uses’ it to monitor and take care of Jacob, the insurance company that pays for Henry, and friends or family members who may want to guarantee him a long life. Henry does not inform its patrons and two days later Jacob dies of a sudden and fatal stroke.

Smart Technologies - the book

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged

The Food Hackathon

During the weekend of February 27th until March 1st the Food Hackathon 3.0 took place in the brand new Galvanize coworking space in downtown San Francisco. Now, what is a Hackathon? It is a contraction of 2 words: hacking and marathon. “Hacking” to most people brings to mind breaking into a system by doing something difficult with a computer. But hacking has a much broader definition than this. One definition that I like, and which was used during this Hackathon was “Breaking (i.e. hacking) up a (broken) system into smaller chunks or parts and then putting the pieces back together in a configuration that solves the initial problem.” Real hacking isn’t just about using a computer. It is about thinking of new ways to look at a system. During the past weekend the system in question was the US Food system. To give the weekend more guidance, the overarching theme was “Nutrition for all”.

During the Food Hackathon a bunch of developers, designers, scientists, students, chefs, entrepreneurs and other ‘foodies’ were thrown together in one room, given a problem for which they were to come up with savvy solutions to tackle, with a sellable concept as a deliverable. And ALL that in just 36 hours! It is a pressure cooker that brings the best out of everybody willing to think about important issues in our modern day (broken) food system. Focus areas could be education, access, economics and/or policy.

After an inspiring symposium on Friday the opening reception for the The Food Business School followed. The Food Business School co-organized this Hackathon and provides education at the Culinary Institute of America.

Saturday morning the actual hacking commenced! In the morning there was time for everybody to pitch his or her idea. The idea of this pitch was to inspire people to join in on your idea aIMG_1194nd work together as a team to further develop that idea. Of the roughly 150 people who participated in the Hackathon about 1 in 3 people pitched an idea, so a lot of creativity from the start! After that, there was the opportunity to engage into conversations with each other about the pitches. Groups were formed and split up again to form coalitions with other groups. After an hour of aggregation the groups were more or less formed.

I joined a group that wanted to focus on teaching kids the nutritional aspects of food, as well as how to grow, prep, and cook food. Learning what to eat and how to cook happens mostly in the household and everybody has at least one memory of food your grandma or grandpa used to make which you loved the most. Kids love their “nana”. Our idea was to bring “nana” back into the school program by teaching the children about food. Our hack was EatWright. The idea behind EatWright was to bring back the love to family dinners and strengthen local communities around food.

After 36 hours of conceptualizing and improving (don’t worry, everybody went home to sleep), we crawled out of our own little rabbit hole and our idea was ready to be pitched in front of the crowd. About 20 other “businesses” presented their ideas too. I was very impressed with how sophisticated some of the ideas were. Personally (and the rest of the crowd was with me on this) I really liked the idea of an “international language of Food”. In short, the “hack” was about communication. How could somebody from Italy be able to understand a delicious Korean dish without translating it into another language first? Is it possible to create a universal language like sign language, but then for food?

The jury decided that “Take this, Eat that” was the best idea in the room. This 3-man strong team developed a savvy application that made it easier for a costumer to find out which food he or she should or shouldn’t eat while taking a specific medication. The application functions as a database that connects Doctors, Nutrition guidelines and the costumer. These three lucky people won an all expenses paid trip to  visit the Milan Expo plus one month of office space at GalvanizeU to further develop their idea.

Of course there was lots of amazing food during this event to feed the hungry contestants. Lots and lots and lots of food. Great brain food! All provided by the culinary services of Rebecca Jean.

Best quote of the weekend: Food is embodied love. I overheard somebody who went further than that by saying: Food is sexy. After the rooftop party closure of the Food Hackathon 3.0 on Sunday night I can only agree.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Food, IT | Tagged ,

Local Food Lab partners with NOST on #FoodStartupBootcamp LA edition

On February 7th, Local Food Lab held their fourth #FoodStartupBootcamp, this time in Los Angeles. This time NOST participated actively: Together with Krysia Zajonc, I co-educated this cohort, giving them valuable insight on the Customer Discovery process.

The event took place at the ultra hip Maker City LA, located in The Reef, a maker space in the historical LA Mart landmark housing a vibrant and innovative community of makers, artists,  designers, and creators.

This time around there were 22 participants, with varying backgrounds in food and agriculture: from a food truck to an aquaponics farm startup, a former yacht chef, and a beer ice cream maker. It was interesting to note the difference between the affinity with the tech sector from the San Francisco cohort with the LA cohort, which made me realize once again that yes, there IS a world outside of the Silicon Valley/San Francisco bubble whose heroes and gurus are Roy Choi, instead of Steve Blank for example.

For our star panel to conclude the day’s bootcamp, we had 5 standout Los Angeles-based food entrepreneurs.

  1. Ashleigh Parsons, Creative Director & Founding Owner of Alma restaurant. Alma was named “Best New Restaurant in America 2013” by Bon Appétit magazine.
  2. Erik Oberholtzer, Co-Founder of Tender Greens. Tender Greens is one of the darlings of the fast-casual restaurant concepts, with an emphasis on healthy, sustainably farmed food at a reasonable price. Its founders were all high-end fine-dining chefs who saw that niche in the LA market. There are currently 17 Tender Greens locations in California with plans for further expansion
  3. Jennifer Piette, Founder of Out of the Box Collective. Out of the Box Collective is a certified B-corp, which are companies that are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. OBC aggregates local sustainable artisanal foods and is a farm to table home delivery service. The company also sells through a successful Amazon Foods store front.
  4. Shelby Coffman and Christie Frazier, Founders of The Hood Kitchen Space. The Hood Kitchen Space is a commercial kitchen-slash-event space, consisting of six fully equipped kitchens for rent.

To read more about some of these entrepreneurs tips for success for food startup entrepreneurs, you can check out the Local Food Lab blog.

This #FoodStartupBootcamp was the fourth one in a series of bootcamps: New York, Washington, San Francisco and now Los Angeles. Other bootcamps are planned for Seattle, Boston, Houston, Chicago, Austin and Detroit (dates tbd), with a bootcamp in the Netherlands also in the planning for later on this year.


Posted in Entrepreneurship, Food, Startups