Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Scientists Try to Give Plants Emotions

Photo courtesy: DigInfo/screen grab

Having worked with plants most of my life, I know that plants respond to emotions. When I worked for a plant company that supplied offices with plants and maintenance, it was easy to see at a glance, the employees who truly loved plants. The plants besides or over their desks were always the healthiest, greenest plants in the office. Never failed!

We know that office plants can make us healthier and happier and that reconnecting with nature improves our mental and physical health. But what if we could create plants that actually physically react to our emotions and express them right back at us? What if that house plant sitting on your desk could nod in sympathy as you vent your frustrations about a client, or do a little leap for joy when you successfully pull off a big contract?

That seems to be the thinking behind a research project at Keio University which aims to "make living plants seem even more alive, and give them a greater presence" by reacting directly to what we are thinking and feeling.

At first I assumed it was a freaky experiment in biotechnology/telepathy, but it seems that it is more akin to puppetry — with a series of sensor-controlled motors being attached to plants by a series of wires.

Photo courtesy: DigInfo/screen grab

Now, I have to wonder who was the mind behind trying to get plants to move in concert with our emotions. Does this mean that if I am depressed, my plant would languish over the rim of its pot until I feel better?

The researchers say they want to make the plant seem "even more alive" than it is now. How does one make a living thing seem more alive? I think what they mean is, they want to create plants that seem to be a bit more human.

Either way, it's very strange. As for researcher Furi Sawaki's intent to explore "how plants could be utilized as content", I confess to being intrigued. Perhaps we'll soon be able to watch the entire works of Shakespeare being performed on our desks by a small troop of cacti. Now that would actually be pretty cool...

A quick peek at how researchers are progressing with this.

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