Caleb Harper's "This computer will grow your food in the future": Criticisms & Updates

UPDATE Nov. 11, 2019: TED has removed this talk because we have determined that it does not meet our science standards.

At TEDGlobal>Geneva 2015, Caleb Harper, who was the director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab at the time, described a "personal food computer" that he said could effectively grow produce at faster speeds and with more flavor and nutrition, while allowing farmers to easily share data with other farmers to detail the optimal conditions for growth.

In 2019, a former manager of the lab came forward with charges that the food computers were not working as expected, and that she was directed to falsify growth outcomes using unethical means. A former research director at the MIT Media Lab also came forward in 2019 to say he raised concerns with the lab over Harper’s claims, but his attempts to independently verify Harper’s research were rebuffed.

In addition, in September 2019, a report surfaced that the MIT Media Lab's Open Agriculture Initiative was under investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection over its wastewater dumping protocols.

MIT Media Lab halted work at the Open Agriculture Initiative the week of Oct. 28, 2019, "pending completion of ongoing assessments," according to a statement from Maria T. Zuber, MIT’s Vice President for Research and a member of the interim Media Lab Executive Committee, released by MIT on Nov. 7, 2019. However, Zuber, in consultation with other members of the Media Lab Executive Committee, was permitting some documentation and design work related to the project to continue on campus, according to MIT.

More explanation from Zuber is available here. MIT’s policy on research integrity is here.

If you have further comments or information you feel should be added to this update, please email with the subject line "Caleb Harper comment."