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Accepted Paper:

What happens when Google’s sister company enters agriculture? A case study on mineral: alphabet’s sustainable agriculture subsidiary  
Chantale Tippett (University of Oslo)

Short abstract:

Upon emerging from Alphabet’s secretive X Development Labs in 2023, Mineral claimed to have already surveyed and analyzed a tenth of the world’s farmland. Despite this revelation, little is known about the firm’s operations, ambitions, or impacts. This study aims to change that.

Long abstract:

In both policy and private sector narratives, the digital transformation of agriculture is often portrayed as both necessary and urgent (Muench et al. 2022). Scholars in domains including STS have, however, cautioned that Agriculture 4.0 technologies risk locking in unsustainable pathways and power imbalances rather than fostering more radical transitions to approaches such as agroecology (Prause, Hackfort, and Lindgren 2021). To date, scholarship on who is playing a dominant role in processes of digital transformation has focused largely on incumbent agri-food actors (Bronson and Sengers 2022) and, to a growing extent, start-ups (Klerkx and Villalobos 2024). Comparatively little attention has been paid to the growing presence of technology giants such as Amazon or Alphabet (Google’s parent company).

I aim to contribute to filling this gap through a case study of Mineral: a wholly owned subsidiary of Alphabet that spun out of its secretive X Development Labs in 2023. Mineral bills itself as ‘discovering the intelligence of plantkind to feed and protect humankind’ (Mineral 2023), and upon launching claimed to have ‘already surveyed and analyzed 10% of the world’s farmland’ (Burwood-Taylor 2023). Building on critiques of precision agriculture (Stock and Gardezi 2021) as well as recent work that interrogates the entry of tech giants into new sectors through the lens of intellectual monopoly capitalism (Rikap 2023) I use a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the drivers and potential impacts of the Mineral’s entry into the world of agriculture.

Traditional Open Panel P210
Digital technologies in food and agriculture: merging STS with Critical Agrifood Studies
  Session 1 Tuesday 16 July, 2024, -