Technology increasing choices, professor says

November 21, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

Speaking at a speed that rivaled the computers he lauded, Lowell B. Catlett gave Carroll County a vision of the future Friday.

tTC "It's a seamless life in a seamless world," said Dr. Catlett, a professor of agriculture and business at New Mexico University in Las Cruces, during his fast-paced lecture at the Agricultural Appreciation breakfast that kicked off Farm-City Week in Carroll County.

Farm-City Week, sponsored nationwide by the American Farm Bureau, reminds people that farm families and those who live in cities are interdependent. The annual observance ends on Thanksgiving Day.

Dr. Catlett told a receptive audience of nearly 400 that the choices people have today are possible because of advances in technology.

"The lines of demarcation between life and leisure, schooling and work are coming down," he said. "In the history of the world, people have not had so many choices."

Discussing foreseeable technological developments, Dr. Catlett said that hand-held computer devices using informational compact disks will give people access to as much information as in the Library of Congress wherever they go.

In glasses that will transmit that information, lasers that follow eye movements, similar to those used by fighter pilots in the Persian Gulf War, will sense when someone has stopped reading because they don't know the meaning of a word.

The computer can then substitute a synonym or reformulate a sentence.

Virtual reality, which allows people to feel as if they are experiencing what they see on a computer screen, can help people learn, because people remember what they've done more easily than they recall what has just been heard or seen, he said.

"Imagine what this could do for the dyslexic," Dr. Catlett said. "This accelerates the way we receive and process information.

"This [virtual reality] could create the ultimate couch potatoes," he admitted. "We also have couch potatoes now. But we find that most people, when they experience a taste of something, want to go out and do the real thing."

The new technology not only will help farmers keep up with the latest agricultural advances, but could help their production, he said. Scientists have recently discovered that plants "communicate" with each other through certain odors and high-pitched sounds.

For example, when a Douglas fir was infected with a beetle, it "told" the other plants, which immediately began producing a natural pesticide.

"Scientists listened in a cornfield, and when a beetle bit into a corn plant, that plant cried," Dr. Catlett said, noting that people have not found better terms to describe the plant's communication process.

"The sad part is that the other beetles heard that and came, deciphering that as 'restaurant open,' " he said.

Technology is now being developed to emit, via computer, sounds that will negate the corn's "cries," Dr. Catlett said. "They [the beetles] can't understand that. All they hear is 'restaurant closed.' "

Even now, technology is positively affecting agriculture. Genetic engineering scientists have discovered bacteria that will take solid wastes and turn them into ethanol for 38 cents per gallon, he said.

Genetic engineering also has discovered polymers and zoophytes that will trap the agricultural chemicals harming the Chesapeake Bay and keep them on a farmer's property.

Such engineering also is creating natural pesticides that will more efficiently attack diseases and insects attacking crops, Dr. Catlett said.

"This is a new world for agriculture," he said.

"But . . . the problem is not in the acceptance of new ideas, but the giving up of the old."

Corporate sponsors for the breakfast were Baugher Enterprises, D. Bowman and Sons, Carroll County Farm Bureau, Central Maryland Farm Credit, Finch Services, Genstar Stone Products, Lippy Brothers and County Fair Farms, Marada Industries Inc. and Union National Bank.

Each sponsor paid $500 toward Dr. Catlett's speaking fee.

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