BY KIM BELLARD
In light of the recent open letter from AI leaders for a moratorium on AI development, I’m declaring a temporary moratorium on writing about it too, although I doubt either one will last long (and this week’s title is, if you hadn’t noticed, an homage to Harlan Ellison’s classic dystopian AI short story). Instead, this week I want to write about plants. Specifically, the new research that suggests that plants can, in their own way, scream.
Bear with me.
To be fair, the researchers don’t use the word “scream;” they talk about “ultrasonic airborne sounds,” but just about every account of the research I saw used the more provocative term. It has long been known that plants are far from passive, responding to stimuli in their environment with changes in color, smell, and shape, but these researchers “show that stressed plants emit airborne sounds that can be recorded from a distance and classified.” Moreover, they posit: “These informative sounds may also be detectable by other organisms.”
It should make you wonder what your houseplant is saying about you when you forget to water it or get a cat.
They basically tortured – what else would you call it? – plants with a variety of stresses, then used machine learning (damn – I guess I am writing about AI after all) to classify, with up to 70% accuracy, different categories of responses, such as too much water versus too little. Even plants that have been cut, and thus are dying, can still produce the sounds, at least for short periods. They speculate that other plants, as well as insects, may be able to “hear” and respond to the sounds.Continue reading…