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Adam Minter

The Robot Farm Is Here

It will solve a lot of problems — and create some worrying new ones.

Needs more robots.

Needs more robots.

Photographer: Jie Zhao/Corbis

As rich countries welcome autonomous cars, trucks and boats onto their roads and waterways, the developing world is grappling with a humbler revolution: automated farming. What was once the world's most labor-intensive profession may be soon run by smartphones. And that could change agriculture as profoundly as mechanization did last century.

This shift will affect how food is grown and consumed everywhere. But its greatest impact will be in the developing world, where subsistence farms account for most of the arable land and populations are booming. China, home to 1.4 billion appetites, is embracing this technology earlier and more vigorously than its peers — and will consequently have to face up to its challenges, too.

This month, China is launching a seven-year autonomous agriculture pilot program in Jiangsu Province. Much like state efforts to boost driverless cars, robotics and other technology, the program will experiment with new equipment and methods in an effort to bring China's millions of polluting and unproductive farms into the information age. That could have immense benefits.