Not all of us are brave enough to face up to a future of robots farming vast high rises of our fruits and veggies. But Tim Donohue is. And not only does he have the same last name as me, but he's also started a think tank called Key4Hope, which is mainly comprised of friends and family and examines just how we can solve all these bothersome social-environment-economic-psychological kerfuffles we find ourselves in these days.
Yes indeed – and you can see the surprisingly technical (Donohue has a master's in international relations from San Francisco State) results of these down home solutions on the group's website. Fancy a close-knit cabal from Mountain View solving such quandries! Of course this interview is not to endorse what they've come up with. But the point is that they're talking about change. And as Donohue told us in a recent phone interview, it's really more about getting the conversation started.
San Francisco Bay Guardian: So tell me about starting your think tank.
Tim Donohue: Well, Key4Hope went online in June. This is a long story but I'll make it short. I kind of organized it. What we do is that I've gotten members thorugh Facebook, Craig's List, we send ideas back and forth. There's no scientists, we're just average people. We tweak the ideas and then we put them up on the website. We don't have titles, we're trying to keep it low key.
SFBG: What was your motivation behind starting the think tank?
TD: I have a masters degree in international relations from San Francisco State. I've been writing and putting things together since I was 15 – I'm now 55. I've done a lot of traveling and seen a lot of things and I think there's a lot of problems out there. I guess we're trying to do something positive.
[Here we side track to our names, as we are clearly of the same Celtic clan. Donohue gets us back on course, concluding “but I could talk about that for hours.”]
SFBG: So let's focus on one of your theories. Robot farmers? Tell me about that one in your own words.
TD: I was in the Phillipines for nine months, I've been to Mexico, I've seen a lot of poverty. The thing about robot farmers is that they can produce more food. Robot farmers, I've never heard of them anywhere else. What we're trying to do is mechanize farming as much as possible. What we're trying to do is produce enough food, we need to increase arable land. 27,000 people starve to death every day. If we can increase food production more lives can be saved. There's always the question of who will pay for it, I think that's the best place for foreign aid.
SFBG: Are you familiar with the arguments some have that the further mechanization of farming that's taken place over the past hundred years has actually hurt the environment?
TD: Oh yes. I used to be a member of the Sierra Club and one of the problems is that farming takes up a lot of land, a lot of rainforests are being cut down. But we have to find a happy mix of saving the environment. We are also in favor of vertical farming, which means sky scraper farming.
Skyscraper farming. Drawing courtesy of Key4Hope
SFBG: But I believe that factory farming and the like brings us farther from the earth's natural cycles.
TD: I think the environment page is something you should look at because youre obviously an environmentalist. What were advocating is that in the next four eyars robots will go out and survey the land, we may need more pine trees. I think that will counterbalance the loss of land from farming. We're obviously not always right, we're throwing ideas out there so people can talk about them.
SFBG: Would the robot farmers cause issues with labor?
TD: No doubt that it will cause problems with labor. But it will lead to new jobs in terms of people making the robots. My conjuncture is that robot problems in conjuncture with vertical farming will increase the amount of food. As progress goes on, you can always see that labor has changed.
SFBG: Is any one developing this idea of robot farmers now?
TD: Not to my knowledge, but I wouldn't be surprised if somebody was. We're looking forty years down the road in some of these cases, and that's pretty far down the road in terms of progress. [we subsequently found some chit-chat on the subject]
SFBG: So this think tank, is part of its use to stimulate discussion among the family and friends that are a part of it?
TD: Yes that's definitely part of it.
SFBG: What kind of response have you been getting from the website?
TD: This went on in June and we've gotten some people on Facebook and Craig's List to respond, but we really haven't gotten any media publicity yet. Getting it organized has been really humungous for me. We hope to get publicity and get this off the ground.
SFBG: Are the ideas your own original solutions, or are there certain sources you cull them from?
TD: A lot of the ideas are my original ideas and some are ones Ive borrowed and enhanced. For example, with vertical farming, there's been environmental reclamation in the Everglades and Florida.
SFBG: What is your end goal for Key4Hope?
TD: To inspire people to work harder to make the world a better place. 27,000 people are starving to death every day and the rainforest is losing acres and acres and there's war everywhere. We're hoping these ideas will spark... I don't want to say a movement because that's a little drastic, I mean we're real small, we only have 17 members. But spark discussion and get the ideas accepted out there somewhere. I went to Catholic grammar school from first to eighth grade, you might say I'm religious (chuckles).