The future will happen whether we like it or not and it is therefore essential to take action. “People are afraid of the future because they feel that they are not in control,” Roberto Flore who runs the DTU Skylab Foodlab in Copenhagen said at the European Food Summit.
“We should design utopias or positive futures rather than speak of dystopia,” he said.
Technologies, he said, need to be human centric. “We need to find people who can help to create and design machines. We do not have this concept at the moment. Machines are toady designed with efficiency but they are not efficient. They are only driven by numbers. There will be a crash point if we do not act now. The question is how can we design machines with social efficiency in mind, a machine that benefits society. Maybe we will fish less but we may be able to have fish available for more people,” he said.
The former Italian chef who took over the DTU Skylab Foodlab last year after having headed the Nordic Food Lab (run by Noma) said he had a background and studied agriculture but had no farm. “I was a chef but did not have a restaurant, and I have worked for six years in academia but I am not a scientist.”
But he has the perfect background to connect people in academia and the food industry to work on projects aimed at tackling some of the most topical issues in food and not only today.
Roberto warned that while sustainability was a buzzword it was essential to create legacy projects to ensure that we have a better life in future otherwise there will be ‘no elephant left in the room’, the title of his talk in Ljubljana Slovenia.
“We need to create model whereby people have space. He said that while there was top down innovation there is a lot of innovation that comes from a bottom up approach,” he said.
In a 1930s painting there is what looks like a smart phone (see below). “It seemed somewhat impossible but in reality technology and change can be quick. We perceive the future as something that will take long but in reality it could be around the corner,” he said.
Roberto said that we should work to build a future we would like to have because we will all be effected by the changes that will come about.
Today, he said large scale food production is controlled by machines. “This is most of the food that people will receive. The question is how we can drive change. It is wrong to say that there is good or bad technology. There is only a wrong way of using technology. It is important to give people, farmers access to technology.”
He spoke of how Skylab helps start-ups in transition economies. For example, in Kenya, there is a huge need for a technology revolution. “They are working on developing sensors that will enable farmers to know when they need to water the soil. This is great for a country where it might take half a day to get the water they need,” he said.
Roberto said that the food industry needed to think how to design the work place for the future generations. “We have to be extremely conscious of what we develop, we have a responsibility,” he said.
Speaking about Skylab, Roberto said it was open for students and even chefs who wanted to design new tools they could use in the kitchen. “It will be amazing to see how the new generation of chefs can picture the kitchen 20 years from now. We would like to build future tools with them.”
He said that there were over 96,000 visitors at Skylab last year. There have been 157 student start-up projects who can get up to 120,000 euros to develop a project.
The FoodLab is an interdisciplinary space for food innovation. It enables applied learning and entrepreneurship by focusing on student innovation, and collaboration with public and private sectors. Ideas and projects are tested in close cooperation with fellow students, businesses, educators, researchers, policy makers, artists and chefs.
Foodlab uses food as a core ingredient to unleash creativity and instigate dialogues across disciplines. We support innovation by providing all DTU students with free access to our workshop and offering them the possibility of conducting research, product development and prototyping.
For Foodlab, the word ‘food’ does not only categorize food as an ingredient but also as a complex ecosystem.
At the moment there are groups working on trying to solve major global challenges like identifying how Denmark could run solely on renewable energy in future or how the world can be more sustainable.
“What is important for us is to create a space that allows for innovation that might be unusual and giving space for people to test,” he said.