Sunday, September 15, 2019

"An ambitious MIT project that purported to turn anyone into a farmer with a single tool is scraping by with smoke-and-mirror tactics"

Business Insider:
The "personal food computer"


Ahead of big demonstrations of the devices with MIT Media Lab funders, staff were told to place plants grown elsewhere into the devices, the employees told Business Insider.

In another instance, one employee was asked to purchase herbs at a nearby flower market, dust off the dirt in which they were grown, and place them in the boxes for a photoshoot, she said.

Harper forwarded an email requesting comment on this story to an MIT spokesperson. The spokesperson didn't provide a comment.

The aim was to make it look like the devices lived up to Harper's claims, the employees said. Those claims, which included assertions that the devices could grow foods like broccoli four times faster than traditional methods, landed Harper and his team articles in outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Wired and National Geographic.

Harper's vision for the personal food computer is bold: "You think Star Trek or Willy Wonka, that's exactly what we're going for,"


In the Spring of 2017, Cerqueira was part of a pilot program that delivered three of Harper's devices to local schools in the Boston area. Initially, the idea was for the students to put the devices together themselves. But Cerqueira said that didn't work — the devices were too complex for the students to construct on their own.

"They weren't able to build them," Cerqueira said.

In response, Cerqueira's team sent three MIT Media Lab staff to set up the computers for them. Of the three devices the staff members tried to setup, only one was able to grow plants, she said. That one stopped working after a few days, however.

When Cerqueira and her coworkers would visit the school, students would joke that the plants they were growing in plastic cups were growing better
This very long thread has much more, and makes this observation: