Saturday, November 26, 2022

Have We Got Brews for You!

Apparently you can now 'print' a plant based meat substitute in 3D, and the texture and taste are excellent, according to the new Jeremy Clarkson of the culinary world, George 'GM' Monbiot. He has been singing from the rooftops about other wonderful techno-utopian offerings, such as 'precision fermentation' and even genetically engineered 'solutions' to all the world's problems. On his RePlanet, ReBoot, ReFood, ReGurgitate manifesto he actually claims that these technologies can provide "abundant food to the world's poorest".

When was the last time a new technology was used to benefit the world's poorest? Covid vaccines may have been produced remarkably quickly, but billions were made out of them. The same billions could have been used to feed people, or cure the conditions that most people in poor countries die from, prematurely. For example, provision of clean water would eliminate a huge proportion of the most deadly pathogens, even polio. But no, we're going to address each water-borne pathogen, one by one, with a vaccine, because we make money out of that.

When George lists how much protein food produced by precision fermentation will contain, requiring 1,700 times less land, less water too, and producing less greenhouse gases, I wondered how these 'facts' were so much more reliable than similar 'facts' that have been published about GM. Of course, for the English guardian, a fact is whatever the mainstream currently holds to be the orthodox view. And that can change. But being a mainstream journalist means you turn with the wind, nothing new about that.

Anyhow, since the English guardian has become such an evangelist for techno-fixes, perhaps they would consider the much hyped Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Generation (NLG), in particular. Using the online (free) version of GPT3, you can take the first paragraph of George's encyclical:

"Let’s focus for a moment on technology. Specifically, what might be the most important environmental technology ever developed: precision fermentation."

And the result you get is:

"The technology has been around for decades, of course, but it was never used to tackle a big environmental problem. Now it is. Precision fermentation is the technology that will allow us to make the next generation of biofuels. It is also the technology that will help us make a new generation of medicines, including antibiotics. And, if we can find a way to use precision fermentation to make food, it will help us feed the world."

A little bit of editorial work could make that indistinguishable from something penned by the venerable man himself. It goes on:

"Precision fermentation is a technology that allows us to control the environment in which microorganisms grow. We can control the temperature, the pH, the amount of oxygen, and the nutrients. We can also control the genes of the microorganisms. This means that we can make microorganisms do what we want them to do. This technology has already had a big impact on the world of medicine. We now have vaccines that are made with precision fermentation. We also have a new generation of antibiotics that are made with precision fermentation. And, we are just beginning to explore the potential of precision fermentation to make new medicines."

The Natural Language Generation tool goes on about producing biofuels using the precision fermentation process. Can this be done? Because even the guardian can't control what precision fermentation (or GM, or NLG, or any other techno-utopian next big thing) is used for.

But here's another question: how do we know that NLG isn't already being used by the mainstream media? A log of BBC articles are clearly written using a template, with a few bits shuffled around. How do we know George didn't use it when he was writing the article in question, or that he won't use it in the future?

I don't think anyone would mistake the unedited paragraphs for the work of a human. But if any mainstream media baron were to think how much money they could save on expensive columnists (note that the guardian article appears in their ironically titled section 'comment is free'), there's no telling what 'solutions' they'd stoop to. As long as they don't print 3D, plant-based versions of George himself. And I'm now imagining the movie: 'Being George Monbiot'.

But I digress. Or do I?


No comments: