Although it is tempting to posit that human-level intelligence might be the be-all and end-all for intelligent software agents, there is the possibility that more primitive levels of "intelligence" may have significant utility and other benefits, in much the manner that varying levels of intelligence are useful in human social organizations. Besides human-level intelligence, we could also consider non-human animal-level intellugence, especially for more primitive operations. After all, is "searching" that much different from "hunting", and are humans really that much better at hunting than many animal species? Taking this progression to the next (lower) level, does the plant kingdom have anything to offer in terms of capabilities that might be useful in software agents? My hunch is that the answer is yes, or at least maybe.
I am not suggesting that plants could provide a model for matching or exceeding human-level intelligence, but there are plenty or lower-level operations and infrastructure needs that might in fact benefit from what we might learn from study of the plant kingdom. After all, plants root, grow, reproduce, disperse seeds, and co-operate with other plants in a fashion, suggesting forms of networking and distributed processing, at least at a primitive level. Besides, plant have mastered the process of harnessing the energy of the sun, a feat that we continue to struggle with.
Whether plants have a human-like or animal-like "mind" or "brain" is debatable, but maybe irrelevant. What is relevant is the forms of processing that plants can perform and how that processing is controlled.
The real potential may be not for the more "intelligent" of agent needs, but in the need for more robust, durable, and resilient "grunt" agent needs and needs within the infrastructure to support the intelligent agents.
The plant kingdom may be able to provide some interesting metaphors for information processing.
The more interesting angle might be that we could construct hybrid metaphors that combine aspects of human, animal, and plant "intelligence" that might not be possible or practical in the "real" world.
Whether or not we are able to use plant-like capabilities in agents themselves, my hunch is that the infrastructure and environment in which agents operate could very well benefit from being more plant-like. Visualize that as agents as animals in a jungle.
I have not dug too deeply into this area, yet.
Here are a couple of references I have stumbled across:
- WIRED: Smarty Plants: Inside the World's Only Plant-Intelligence Lab
- ScienceNews: No Brainer Behavior - Messages, memory, maybe even intelligence - botanists wrangle over how far plants can go
- The Christian Science Monitor: New research opens a window on the minds of plants
- The New York Times: Limits to Plant Intelligence (vintage 1909!)