Will the first artificial intelligence by inspired by plants?

I didn’t pick this up straight away from TED as I hadn’t watched it. I’ve not heard of plant neuro­bi­o­logy before.* After the… umm… enthu­si­astic report­ing on the BBC of plants’ abil­ity to react to envir­on­ments, it didn’t seem to be so urgent. My mis­take, obvi­ously, as after think­ing about it neuro­bi­o­logy is a sens­ible word to think about sig­nalling in plants.

Stefano Mancuso: The roots of plant intelligence

I’m still not sure about the title though, The roots of plant intel­li­gence. I’ll cheer­fully con­cede he’s for­got­ten more bot­any than I’ll ever know. Still, I won­der if the use of the word intel­li­gence obscures what’s going on. I think it sug­gests cog­ni­tion, whereas I see it more as a stun­ningly com­plex and respons­ive abil­ity to react to stim­uli. Despite that I think the clos­ing part of the talk is very exciting.

Stefano Mancuso’s idea of plant­oids, robots inspired by plants, seems obvi­ous when talks about it, espe­cially for the study and col­on­isa­tion of soil. The concept of hybrids util­ising the extraordin­ary cap­ab­il­it­ies of plants with pro­cessing power (and move­ment?) is one of those stun­ningly clever ideas that make you won­der why you didn’t think of it. But will these cre­ations be intel­li­gent? That might depend on where you sit on the sub­ject of plant intel­li­gence. On the other hand a plan­ning and pro­act­ive pro­cessing centre in sil­icon hooked onto a plant base could exhibit a very dif­fer­ent type of intel­li­gence to the kind of thing that we’ve been primed for by science-fiction.

My head’s spin­ning with this one, so if any­one would like to point me in the dir­ec­tion of use­ful things to read, or patiently explain why I’m wrong to think a plant-based arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence couldn’t hap­pen, please leave a com­ment below. I’m start­ing with a visit to the web­site of the Laboratorio Internazionale di Neurobiologia Vegetale.

*In the interests of main­tain­ing lab-cred I should point out that every­body else in the office has almost cer­tainly heard of Stefano Mancuso’s work.

Alun Salt. ORCID 0000-0002-1261-4283

When he's not the web developer for AoB Blog, Alun Salt researches something that could be mistaken for the archaeology of science. His current research is about whether there's such a thing as scientific heritage and if there is how would you recognise it?

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