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About Internet Society 5 June 2018

The Internet of Food is on the table

The food sector is one of the few large remaining sectors that have not been radically transformed by new technologies yet. Up to now, the Internet in particular was not involved as much as other sectors. However, in a not-too-distant future, the everyday question “what’s for dinner?” will be answered by algorithms managed by the next generation of food companies. When these algorithms are governing the food industry, they will also be governing people as well as their health and well-being.

As food is online, we will start realizing how important network design has become for our existence. The question “what’s for dinner?” will be replaced by “who decides what we eat?”. The Internet Society members, Johan Jörgensen, Michael Daun and Patrik Fältström, assure that this is the most profound question that the tech revolution has asked so far. That is the reason why they created a Special Interest Group on Internet of Food to focus on general discussions around the future infrastructure and standards for the digital world of food.

The project leader Johan Jörgensen explains: “The initial work in the SIG has been about discussing which standards already exist in the food sector and understanding where the gaps are. The world of food does not lack information, but it lacks open access to information. We came to the conclusion that we need a unique food item ID, collecting all data from food producers, distributors, consumers and other sources. At the moment that is the real core of our work. The conclusion has been supported by several discussions during the SIG public presentations in the USA, UK, Chile, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and through a web-casted Google-hosted seminar.”

Have you identified a potential food ID system?

“A hypothesis could be a universally unique identifier (UUID) – a 128-bit number used to identify information in computer systems, that can be generated without requiring a central registration authority or coordination between the parties that are generating it.

Here is an example: Xxxxxxxx-f00d-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx 

We think that UUID is a strong contender for further investigation to avoid adding more complexity to an ID system. It could make the work of service providers, search engines and other operators much easier in putting standards to good use. We don’t say that this is necessarily the right way to go, there are other ways… even DNA, though it is still too expensive to use.”

How could tech and data move the food system in the right direction?

Increased service levels can be a good thing, provided that the creators of the algorithms are governed by sound values. But what if the values are subordinated to other goals, for example the manipulation of consumption habits for the sake of profit maximization? The development of the digital food system is raising a big concern. Can we rely on the market and self-regulation to give the planet the food system it needs? The answer is no. Thus, we need to take action and activate policy-makers and policy-thinking. We also need to engage network design as a part of the system development and avoid the future of food to end up with monopolistic, devastating consequences. Any infrastructure supporting digital aspects of food should be free, unlimited, open, secure and based on values such as Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.

What are the aims of the Internet of Food SIG?

We have started a discussion that will hopefully lay a solid foundation for future digital infrastructure standards of the global food system. We participate in the development of the backbone protocols that will facilitate a free and transparent flow of information regarding an unlimited number of food objects, with an individual ID. The ultimate goal is to turn those discussions into operational technical standards that are incorporated in what is commonly known as ”the Internet”, thus making food digital on a global scale. A common infrastructure that takes into account the specific properties of food will facilitate openness and innovation and let us feed the planet in a healthy and sustainable way.

The Internet of Food theme has been laid on the table.

We need to ask ourselves “who decides what we eat”. Join the discussion now!

I wish to acknowledge Johan Jörgensen, Patrik Fältström and Michael Daun who greatly assisted me in writing this article through their insight and expertise and the Discussion Document on The Internet of Food From “What’s for Dinner?” to “Who Decides What We Eat?”

A Special Interest Group (SIG) is formed by Individual Members of the Internet Society to pursue significant long-term activities that support the mission of the Internet Society.

Join a SIG today and help promote a particular cause related to the Internet.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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