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It's 2040. Fusion energy's starting to become widespread and solar's gotten better. AI and robotics (and brain uploading, as with these guys) have reached the point where a robot can do any job a human can do, and it's just a question of cost. The trouble is, there's now a huge population of people with low-to-middling skills and intelligence who have trouble earning a living.

I'm considering having my characters push for (figuratively) .4 acres and a food-generator. That is, they give/rent/sell people some kind of minimal set of gadgets to produce food, possibly like a greenhouse in a cargo container or a thing that cranks out amino acids and carbs. (Thinking of something from Project Rho, here.) The idea is that the people living on these things are poor but able to take care of their most basic needs without constant charity.

The question: is a compact food generation system at all plausible as a way of keeping low-skill people largely financially independent? Obviously food's not the only need, and there're social problems involved, but food is important and could be the basis for similar tech producing clothing and other things on a sort of local village level. Does it make any economic sense compared to traditional farming though, even assuming reasonably cheap energy?

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Being able to disconnect from the grid to some extent will be useful on several levels. Depending on how the system actually works, this makes the entire society more robust (or "anti fragile" if you will), since disruptions in other systems will have fewer follow on effects. This also creates a small scale islanding effect, preventing or limiting the "ripple" or domino effect if a disaster or disruption strikes.

Consider, a disruption in the transportation system could leave cities without food, and a common trope is "riots will start in three days". If most people are self sufficient in food, then there will be less danger of disruptions in transportation causing large scale food riots, for example.

Another positive effect will be teaching people to have agency. If you are personally responsible for ensuring the device supplies food for you and your family, then you will certainly pay a lot more attention and invest time and resources to learning how to use and possibly optimism the device. Since you are self sufficient from using the device, you may be more inclined to become self sufficient in other areas of life as well. This overall will make the society become more robust in the face of difficulties of disaster.

On a broader scale, reducing the amount of money people need for necessities has the positive effect of allowing for more savings and capital formation. Even for very poor people this can be a net positive, for example they can now apply for a job which requires a car (they can afford to buy a cheap automobile) or safety boots, while at a larger scale, this provides a cushion for people to withstand misfortune, and on the largest scale, the new capital can be invested in wealth creation (even poor people will have money for a Kickstarter campaign donation, for example, and the savings deposited in banks becomes the capital for loans).

If the sort of saving can be extended to other aspects of life (energy, water, clothing, small consumer goods), then the resiliency and capital formation benefits to society become even more pronounced.

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Assuming you're referring to a means of sustenance produced from cultures such as this, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be practical, given that such foods have already been through public trials and could potentially be produced inside an appropriately scaled version of this desktop device.

However, this says nothing about the nutritional requirements for the culture and it is not clear where those ingredients would come from in your scenario.

As for financial independence, providing the most basic needs such as nutrition, basically keeps people from starving. This would hardly make people financially independent unless other basic needs are met, such as clothing, shelter, sanitation - also very important unless you are interested in ruling over a complete mess, very embarrassing and perhaps very violent.

It perhaps makes economic sense, in the sense that land that would have been used for farming is now available for other purposes and farms are much harder to tend, more labor intensive, than such an isolated environment as a bioreactor. But it definitely makes social sense because it allows these people the choice to do as they please with their 0.4 acres rather than forcing them to grow on it to survive and feed their children - and 0.4 acres is a dismal lot to farm if that is all you have and you depend on it totally. Farming that small of a plot may not even work in many cases or most cases, depending on the geography, if the people do not have the financial means to buy tools or any kind of technology to help them out.

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