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CST 373

Ethics and Current Issues
in Communication Sciences and Technology
Fall 2014

Assignment 3: Team-led Seminar and eDebate
Topic C: A City Turns To Lettuce Fields To Grow High-Tech Startups

Peter Walker, Dana DeVost, Carlos Diaz, Jeremy Steele
Kenny Keating, Alexander Pavelka, Jigar Patel, Davith Khor

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Topic  C  –  GOOD  

THE PROBLEM STATEMENT
This proposal has been prepared for hypothetical analysis by the California Department of
Food and Agriculture.
Our initial question is: Is it right that we, as Computer Scientists, are going to be
working on developing and creating systems and machines that will replace
traditionally low-skill human labor?
We propose that, as future professionals in the Computer Science fields, we are making the
morally and ethically correct decision to develop and create autonomous systems and machines
that will replace traditionally low-skill human labor.

• What are your team’s strongest arguments?
§ The improvements and advancements of technology, in all areas of our society, drive the
prosperity and comfort the human race currently experiences, and will experience.
§ Technological improvements make low-skill work safer and more productive
§ Prosperity, as a result of technological improvements, improve many aspects of society,
including:
o Local living conditions
o Worker intelligence and skills
o Living Wages

o Job prospects
o Business interest and prospects in
local economy

• What are your opponent’s strongest arguments?
§ Societal improvements, as a result of major technological improvements, take a long time
to come to fruition. The immediate result of such economic shifts, from reliance on
human labour to machine labour, is a massive loss of:
o Prospective and current tax payers, as they lose their primary job, and…
o New businesses, as their interest in a dying city wavers
§ The use of chemicals are much more common on farming machines, while human labour
is very organic. This change could affect the end product, and the public’s perception of
the organicity of the product will be called into question.
§ If effort is going to be put into developing machines and systems, which are often less
organic and less efficient than their human counterparts, then why shouldn’t time be
spent in attracting more workers?

• How will you counter your opponent’s arguments?
§ The societal improvements that will follow the adoption of machine labour will
materialize much quicker than is often expected. A prime example is the explosion of
technological companies in Silicon Valley, and it’s shift from an agricultural valley to the
world center of technology and prosperity.
§ While the first generation of machines are often less efficient than human workers, the
only limitation is the effort being put into the development and improvement of its
mechanical and software components. While current iterations of autonomous farming
machines are less efficient with regards to the amount of crops picked per hour, the cost
of purchase and maintenance for 2+ years are exponentially less than the cost of paying
dozens of human workers for 2+ years. As the mechanical and software components

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continue to improve, the efficiency will only improve, cause more popularity and a drop
in cost.
§ The cost of incentivizing farming will dwarf the cost of investment in autonomous
farming technologies, and is it ethically right to try and incentivize farm work, which is
globally recognized as some of the hardest work a human can perform?

PROBLEM DEFINITION
Compared to the daily life of man 500 years ago, we live in science fiction. We produce
exponentially more food, at a fraction of the labor. We communicate instantaneously across the
world, rather than by “snail mail” that took days, even weeks, to travel only a few hundred miles.
We can travel around the world in hours, rather than years. This comfort is the result of some
very smart men and women, and the machines they built. These machines have replaced human
workers in a myriad of low-skill jobs, as they are cheaper, more reliable, more efficient, and are
doing the jobs that we do not want to do.
As Computer Scientists, we are responsible for a lot of the more recent advancements in
automation. We have helped create the software that runs the more modern working machines.
Think if how many jobs currently require the use of a computer, especially the specialized factory
systems. We are directly responsible for improving the productivity and safety of these systems,
and these systems are bettering humanity as a whole. And we do not begrudge the development
of these systems.
Many of the workers, who used to hold the jobs that are now run by machines, were in
constant danger of incredible harm. By replacing them with machines, numerous lives have been
saved, the factories are producing more at a cheaper cost, and the economy and society
improved. Overall, these machines have improved our economy and our society.
Salinas Valley faces a similar issue. As our computer technologies and mechanical systems
continue to improve to an intelligence level necessary to complete low-skill work autonomously,
we can replace the backbreaking work of farming with these machines. Is this the ethically correct
choice, as our work will results in the loss of jobs? We will be directly responsible for developing
the systems that replace the farm workers of Salinas.
We think that we are ethically correct in helping develop these systems. Replacing the farm
workers of Salinas will increase the productivity of those farms, improve the lives of Salinas’s
residents, and ultimately improve not only Salinas’s economy, but also the economy of California.
We cannot be distracted by the short-term loss of some low-skill jobs, and need to focus on what
will be best for Salinas and California. Salinas’ reliance on low-skilled farm workers is a method of
the last century, and it is time that Salinas competes globally.

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HISTORICAL/LEGAL CONTEXT
Our historical content extends as far back the Agrarian Revolution, when people, by hand,
laboured in fields of crops. Over the next few thousand years, we developed the use of horses and
oxen to harvest crops, which freed up people to perform other jobs. When machinery replaced
the horse and oxen, the amount of labourers needed to work in the fields dropped yet again, while
the amount of crops farmed was sustained, and even grew as the machinery became more
popular and efficient. The use of machinery allowed for larger populations to be supported by less
and less farmers. As we consider employing autonomous machines in our fields, it is worth noting
how similar our opponent’s argument is to those given when machines started to replace farmers.
The use of robots in the farming fields is simply the next step in the natural progression from
human labour to machine labour.
In the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes predicted widespread job losses “due to our discovery of
means of economizing the use of labour… outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for
labour”. The argument against the modernization of labour is a tired cliché.
“Consider the case of agriculture, after the arrival of tractors, combines and scientific farming methods.
A century ago, about 30 percent of Americans labored on farms; today, the United States is the world’s
biggest exporter of agricultural products, even though the sector employs just 2 percent of Americans”
(Rattner).

Due to a recent shortage of farm workers, managers of farms in Salinas and the surrounding
farming areas are turning to machines for aid (Louie). While these machines are not quite as
efficient as human labourers, they are merely the first few iterations, and are likely to improve
over the next few years.
Many areas of our society are starting to employ more robots and automatons. By observing
these areas, we can see the common transition of human to machine labour, and can also
observer the economic effects of such changes.
A prime example for the benefits of labour modernization are the many supermarkets and
stores in America and the developed world. Checkout stands are being replaced with automated
checkouts, cutting the number of workers that need to be employed by at least half. A
supermarket can employ one worker to watch a handful of automated checkouts, rather than
every checkout needing at least one worker. In the UCSF Medical Center, a robot pharmacist has
replaced human pharmacists to receive and fill medicinal orders. At the time the article was
written, the machine has fulfilled 350,000 orders without error, and “frees UCSF pharmacists and
nurses to focus more of their expertise on direct patient care” (Rush-Monroe).
One can easily find multiple accounts, from recent past or ancient history, which point to the
inevitability and advantages of machine automation. In all historical cases, humans opted to
remove undesirable low-skill jobs from the economy, replacing the workers with optimized
automatons. The Salinas farms are simply next in line.

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Sources:
Keynes, J.M. (1930). Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. Retrieved from:
https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/keynes/1930/our-grandchildren.htm
Louie, D. (2013). Shortage Of Farm Workers to Pick Strawberries. ABC 7 News. Retrieved from:
http://abc7news.com/archive/9184103/
Rattner, S. (2014, June 21). Fear Not the Coming of the Robots. The New York Times. Retrieved from:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/22/opinion/sunday/steven-rattner-fear-not-the-coming-ofthe-robots.html
Rush-Monroe, K. (2011, March 7). New UCSF Robotic Pharmacy Aims to Improve Patient Safety.
Retrieved September 21, 2014, from http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2011/03/9510/new-ucsfrobotic-pharmacy-aims-improve-patient-safety
Wozneacka, G. & Chea, T. (2013). Robots to revolutionize farming, ease labor woes. Retrieved from:
http://bigstory.ap.org/article/robots-revolutionize-farming-ease-labor-woes

STAKEHOLDERS
The prominent stakeholders in our argument are the Labourers, the Farms and Farming
companies that employ such labourers, and the Technological companies that are developing the
technology replacing the workers.
It is estimated that approximately 47% of the US’s current existing jobs will be replaced by
robots in the next 20 years (Frey). These field workers are generally first generation immigrants or
illegal workers who have migrated to California for a chance better life. Currently, Salinas’s farms
depend mightily on a steady influx of such workers. “California’s $43.5 billion-a-year farm
industry depends on a shadow workforce of undocumented Mexican immigrants that’s eroding
under economic improvements back home and tighter U.S. border controls” (Vekshin). The
labourers will be directly affected by this change.
With a shortage of field workers in California, farmers are less able to harvest their crops,
losing profits by not being able to bring their product to the market. With a price tag of $18,000$20,000 per acre farmers cannot afford to let their crops rot. By supplementing the workforce
with automated workers, farmers will lose the risks of not having enough workers to harvest their
crops. Dole Foods, Inc., a world-scale farming company, has a vested interest in supplementing
low level manual labor jobs with automated machines. By supplementing low-level manual labor
jobs with automated workers, the productivity of farms and quality of produce can increase, as
robots do not need to eat or sleep, and never tire of their task. The cost of one strawberry picking
robot its 50,000 which is easily justifiable when you have the risk of your crop going to waste.
Technological companies, who employ programmers like us to program these machines,
should be quite interested in such developments in the Salinas Valley. As more and more farms
wish to transition from human labour to machine labour, there will be an exponential increase
the number of such machines requested. Tech companies, like those in Silicon Valley, will be
asked to develop such machines, and will employ more programmers. Maybe some companies
will plant some offices and warehouses in Salinas, which will evolve from an agricultural valley
into one of the first “Agri-tech Valleys”.

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Topic  C  –  GOOD  

Sources:
Frey, C.B. and Osborne, M.A. (2013). The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to
computerization? Retrieved from:
http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf
Vekshin, A. (2013). California’s $43 Billion Farms See Labor in Immigrant Fix. Retrieved from:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-14/california-s-43-billion-farms-see-labor-inimmigrant-fix.html
Wozneacka, G. & Chea, T. (2013). Robots to revolutionize farming, ease labor woes. Retrieved from:
http://bigstory.ap.org/article/robots-revolutionize-farming-ease-labor-woes

COMPETETIVE ANALYSIS
For Salinas Valley to prosper and improve, the farms need to start switching to robotic
workers. The recent decrease in migrant workers coming to work in the fields requires that the
farms employ a new source of field labor. But the farms are not the only business that have been
suffering. The 2013 closure of Capital One Bank’s local branch displaced over 800 people
(Mollnar). With the rapid increase of unemployment in the city, the investment of an agriculturaltech start up would cause a tidal shift in the economy of Salinas, starting it on a path toward
growth and prosperity.
Salinas Valley can also have an impact on a global scale. The Food and Agricultural
Organization of the United Nations says by 2050 the population will be at a point where we will
of needed to raise production of food by 70% (FAO says…). Salinas Valley is in a position to
provide a large section of that food, but only by improving their production efficiency. Farms will
not be able to keep up demand by employing human workers, and need to start transitioning to
machine workers.
The technology for employing machine workers in Salinas is currently available, just not in
the form necessary for increasing productivity. However, tech companies are currently working to
improve these machines, and see the benefits in continuing their development. These machines
can only improve, and investment in such technology will be economically and sociological
beneficial. Even at their current states, machines like the Lettuce Bot “can ‘thin’ a field of lettuce
in the time it takes about 20 workers to do the job by hand” (Grandoni). By encouraging tech
companies to invest in developing farming technology, Salinas Valley and California can
experience another era of explosive growth.
Sources:
FAO says Food Production must Rise by 70%. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2014, from
https://www.populationinstitute.org/resources/populationonline/issue/1/8/
Grandoni, D. (2013, July 15). Who Needs Farm Hands When You Can Have Agricultural Robots.
Retrieved September 21, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/15/agriculturalrobots_n_3596158.html
Mollnar, P. (2013, October 11). Capital One closure ends an era in Salinas. Retrieved September 21, 2014,
from http://www.montereyherald.com/news/ci_24293013/salinas-capital-one-employees-clearout

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Topic  C  –  GOOD  

ECONOMIC FACTORS
The economic issues that need to be considered are the cost of the machines and how they
will affect the local economy of the Salinas Valley.
Steve Fennimore, a specialist for the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE),
gives a financial breakdown of these machines. One 5-row Pearson Fountain Autoplanter
machine would cost about $500,000. It requires two people to operate, a tractor driver and
transplant operator and the estimated cost per acre of directed seeded lettuce was about $790
(Blake).
The lettuce machines will improve production immensely. With these new lettuce harvesting
machines, they will do the work of 20 workers with ease. There will be less strenuous activity on
the workers since they won’t have to bend down and harvest lettuce by hand. In an article written
by CBS San Francisco, even the workers are excited for not having to harvest by hand.
There are many economic considerations with job automation in this field. Machines will
improve production compared to their human counterparts, which will have immensely positive
effects, as shown by the historical events in 20th century Britain. From the year 1570 to 1875, the
people of Britain’s income had tripled. But during the much shorter period of 1875 to 1975, it
more than tripled. Industrialization did not ultimately end jobs for people. Rather, it increased
employment. Even though machines took some jobs, humans were still required to maintain the
machines. This industrialization has clearly led to enormous growth in the global economies, as
history shows us. More products could be produced and more money could be paid to the
workers that oversaw the working machines, or built new one. With an increase in wages, Britain
saw a higher standard of living in all areas, ultimately propelling the economy into the
superpower that it was.
Sources:
Blake, C. (2008, April 22). High-tech makes vegetable transplants worth second look in Salinas Valley.
Retrieved September 20, 2014, from http://westernfarmpress.com/high-tech-makes-vegetabletransplants-worth-second-look-salinas-valley-0
CBS San Francisco - Robot Lettuce Pickers In Salinas Point To Future Of Farming. (2013, July 14).
Retrieved September 20, 2014, from http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/07/14/robotfarming/
The onrushing wave. (2014, January 18). Retrieved September 21, 2014, from
http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21594264-previous-technological-innovation-hasalways-delivered-more-long-run-employment-not-less

TECHNOLOGICAL FACTORS
The technologies that we have available to us are already sufficient enough to be able to
replace many farm workers. In Minnesota, a farm employs an automated robot that swerves in
and out of corn crops, applying fertilizer to the crops that need it most. This cuts down on labor
costs and the use of tractors, which will often destroy many crops due to their large size. The

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robot uses GPS is to know when it’s reached the end of the field, and LIDAR (Laser Imaging
Detection and Ranging) to “see” the corn stocks as it moves.
Currently there are already quite a few options for automated workers. The robot Baxter can
learn to do simple repetitive tasks by simply watching. He is very useful in a manufacturing setting
and only costs $22,000, which is the equivalent of an average US production worker's annual
salary. The Lettuce Bot that can thin a field of lettuce in the time that it would take 20 workers to
do normally, which a massive leap in efficiency and costs. There are even cheap automated
drones that can fly above the crops, causing no damage at all. They use advanced sensors and
imaging capabilities to check up on irrigation problems, pest and fungal issues, soil variation, and
plant health.
If there is an increase in invest of automated workers, we can expect to see improvements
much quicker. The easier that the robots are to start and maintain, the more appealing these
robots will be, and we will see a massive shift from human to robotic workers. The automated
farm workers of the future will be cheaper to buy and set up, as well as improving their work
efficiency. Once the industry really embraces the automated workers, companies will be much
more likely to invest in developing new robots, which spur competition and innovation.
Sources:
Anderson, C. (2014). Cheap Drones Give Farmers a New Way to Improve Crop Yields | MIT Technology
Review. Retrieved from http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/526491/agriculturaldrones/
Associated Press. (2013, May 23). Robots to revolutionize U.S. farms, ease labor woes | Daily Record |
dailyrecord.com. Retrieved from
http://archive.dailyrecord.com/article/20130715/NJNEWS18/307150007/Robotsrevolutionize-U-S-farms-ease-labor-woes
Baxter | Redefining Robotics and Manufacturing | Rethink Robotics. (2014). Retrieved September 21,
2014, from http://www.rethinkrobotics.com/baxter/
Talbot, D. (2014, September 9). Cornfield Robot Sprays Fertilizer on Plants | MIT Technology Review.
Retrieved from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/530526/a-nimble-wheeled-farm-robotgoes-to-work-in-minnesota/
Wozniacka, G., & Chea, T. (2013, September 14). Who Needs Farm Hands When You Can Have
Agricultural Robots. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/15/agriculturalrobots_n_3596158.html

RECOMMENDATIONS
Delaying or restricting these machines from performing farm labor simply isn’t an option.
While there is a growing shortage of available labor for farm work, there are still thousands of
farmworkers and their families that depend on their current jobs that will be financially impacted
by the introduction of mechanized farm labor. While there will be an increase of work in
processing, cooling, and distributing plants as machine harvest more crops, many workers will still
be out of a job. A proposed solution would be for the Department of Agriculture, manufactures of
the “farm bots”, farming companies, and farm labor unions to form a transitional committee to
help retrain workers into the new modern farm workforce.

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The committee could train migrant workers on maintenance and service of the machines.
These giant machines will be operating on thousands of acres of day, and so it follows that there
will be an increase in mechanic related work in the farming industry, a void left for newly trained
migrant workers to fill. Other migrant workers could be trained to handle and operate the “farm
bots” themselves. The technology isn’t perfect, the manufacturers could hire workers as “liaisons”,
to help improve the software the machines use to track soil chemical levels, find and eliminate the
lettuce buds that are substandard, and other such techniques related to agriculture. There will
also be an increase in available work within various shipping plants and other shipping related
jobs. Workers who are not able to work on the farm will be able to find jobs in these areas.
Despite the fact that these new machines will create jobs, a portion of migrant workers would
still be displaced. The recommended action is for the committee offer courses that train these
workers in a new trade or skill from a list of industries needing skilled labor. This newly formed
committee would greatly curb the amount of impact the “bots” have on the lives of migrant farm
workers. In fact, the higher-paying and more rewarding professions resulting from the committee
would prove to be beneficial for the migrant workers, their families, and the Salinas economy.
The tech industry is the largest growing and one of the highest grossing industries. The very
future of almost all products and services lies within the hands of computer scientists and their
progress in technological advances. As computer scientists we must be more involved in creating
products that really matter socially. The work computer scientists do should involve increasing the
livelihood of others. Making the next great app won't quite change the world, making human lives
of easier will.

PROS & CONS
PROS:
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The robots will eliminate the need for crop pickers, a backbreaking and
uncomfortable job that does not pay very well
By using robots to increase the productivity of farms, we will be playing a vital role
world food production, which will be very beneficial to Salinas Valley and
California’s economy.
The increase in yields would also mean a tremendous growth in jobs within the
processing, cooling and distributing plants. These positions are much higher paying
and less hazardous to the worker’s health.
A mechanized way of picking fruits and vegetables would also limit the amount of
food-borne illnesses that come about through lack of sanitary practices by farm
workers; because the machine is sterile, it will eliminate the crop waste stemming
from bacteria on the plants (often thousands of acres of year).
The increasing need for tech companies, as well as technicians knowledgeable of the
farming machines, will prompt more tech companies to expand into Salinas Valley.
There will be more people living and working in Salinas, as well as people coming to
learn and work in Salinas.

CST  373  –  Proposal  
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Topic  C  –  GOOD  

There is a huge shortage in farm labor, “the worst that I've seen, ever since I can
remember…rural Mexicans are getting a better education, courtesy of more
government spending, and rejecting farm work, even in their own country. The
nonfarm economy in Mexico is growing and it's creating new jobs that require
engineering and managerial skills and giving better wages…that’s where they’re
going”, and we need to create the jobs that will attract those people (Edward Taylor,
professor of agriculture at University of California, Davis).
The expensive costs of current farm labor (labor costs, insurance, workers comp…)
will no longer be an issue, and will allow companies to have higher profit margins.
The extra money will allow companies to invest in technology, higher paying IT jobs,
a more high quality product, a lower costs of goods for consumers, and other such
benefits
Almost three-fourths of all U.S. hired farm workers are immigrants, and most of them
unauthorized. Most the farm laborers are not active tax-paying citizens. Their money
is taken back home for their families, and is not circulated into the economy. These
workers have to provide for their family, and is it not suggested to squeeze the money
out of them. Rather, there should be incentives for them to learn the skills to get
higher paying jobs, become citizens, and so improve the local economy. With the
money saved in cutting such labor and labor related costs, companies could begin to
invest more locally instead of laborers taking the money out of the country.

CONS:
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The robots introduced into the farms will cause employers to let workers go. This will
cause a massive outflow of workers in the Salinas area. If the city of Salinas is not
prepared, this could majorly impact the local businesses, the house market, and the
population of Salinas, making it a much less desirable place to invest a business into.
The technical knowledge required to operate or maintain these machines will be in
high demand, which we may not be able to fill. This will make the prospect of
transferring from human to robot labourers much less appealing, which in turn may
cause some farms to fail, due to the lack of work or skilled-workers to maintain the
robots.
The revenue created by the development and improvement of such farming
machines may not flow into Salinas. Robotic farmers are likely an appealing product
around the United States. If this technology is mainly developed in Silicon Valley, for
instance, Salinas Valley will suffer, and will not be able to provide as much to the
state of California.
Big farming businesses, like Dole, will likely dominate smaller ones because of the
initial cost of the technology, which is estimated to be $250,000. This will have a
large negative effect on small farms, and could lead to a monopoly of the farming
area available in the Salinas Valley.