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.

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About Alun Salt

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?