How Can the Human Race Save Itself From Itself? Ingenuity, Creativity, and of course, Robot Bees

Richard Wallace

There is no shortage of ways in which humanity is swiftly laying the foundations of its own demise. And no shortage of outlandish solutions, either. For example, desperate scientists are currently concocting extreme and unconventional solutions for melting polar ice caps, seemingly for lack of more sensible options. Whether it’s pumping millions of gallons of cool brine into the ocean, constructing billion dollars worth of fake archipelagos or erecting a giant containing wall around the arctic, it’s clear that the magnitude of the problem requires some equally enormous and bizarre answers.

But even these harebrained schemes don’t compare to Walmart’s latest patent to solve another of humanity’s great threats: falling bumble-bee numbers. The corporation recently took out a patent for robotic pollination drones, ostensibly to perform the job once done by our black and yellow pals.

Nobody really knows why bees are dying off, but the ramifications on worldwide agriculture will have potentially catastrophic—even lethal—effects on the human population. Sure, Walmart, who are expanding more and more into the grocery business, may not be acting purely in the interests of humanity by trying to offset adverse effects on agricultural yields. For them, it’s more a question of market control than general survival. But no matter what their profit motive might be, the fact remains that somebody needs to find a solution. And Walmart’s mad-seeming robot bees could just be what we need.

It goes to show that sensible-seeming solutions only take us so far. We’ve yet to see if Walmart’s plan will ever be viable—at this stage it’s only a patent, a very early step in the development process—but at least it shows that they’re thinking big. It sounds outlandish now, but will it still seem outlandish if it actually turns out to work?

After all, the inventor of acrylic nails was trying to create dental products. The creators of Viagra were looking for heart medicine. This wouldn’t be the first time a business idea has led to an invention with much wider applications beyond its intended use. Although in this case, the intended use itself is already pretty visionary. The question now is—can it ever work?

Big thinking and the pursuit of seemingly impossible ideas is often what it takes to get to new places. Bold thinking is valuable. Even if Walmart’s plan doesn’t work in the way we’re imagining, there’s no reason to think it won’t throw up a solution in some form or another. Lots of things that once seemed far-fetched—driverless cars, AI, smart-homes, delivery drones—are now within our reach, or in use already. In the current climate of unprecedented technological advancement, it’s almost as if there isn’t such thing as an idea too big, too wacky, to intricate. We’re capable of things now that we could only dream of a few short years ago.

Here’s hoping that Walmart’s ingenuity is able to help us strike on more thing off the list of exinction-events-in-waiting. We just hope that they don’t build the bees with capability to sting us, like the real thing. That might be taking an already ambitious idea just a step too far.