5 in 5

IBM Research has created a paper on the five big innovations that it believes will change the world over the next five years. These five predictions are: (1) ‘digital twins’ (virtual models) for farms will increase data sharing, promote innovation among growers and hence increase crop yields; (2) new recycling processes will significantly reduce plastic waste; (3) the ability to map microbes will revolutionise food safety; (4) AI sensors will be able to detect foodborne pathogens; and (5) blockchain will prevent food waste by increasing supply chain visibility and efficiency. Most of these relate to food in some form or another – a particular issue in the developing world, but one of increasing importance in the West as pressures grow to increase domestic production. The last prediction typifies the impact of blockchain on systems – increased visibility. Currently 45% of fruit and vegetables are wasted. Part of the reason for this is the imperfection of information from one end of the supply chain to the other. As this information flows up the supply chain it becomes distorted and is often progressively interpreted with increased amplitude (‘the bullwhip effect’). So, when customer demand increases by 5%, manufacturing output can erroneously increase by as much as 40% in response. Blockchain will reduce this error, theoretically reducing the amount of inventory held in the system at any point in the form of safety stock, and a shift to just-in-time fulfilment. Hence, less stock in sheds and shops.