But extrapolate Elowan's photosynthetic system all the way to the event horizon, and you get at least one interesting scenario.
“A merger of plants with photoelectronic components in this way would mean that one starts to replace the other,” Sareen explained. “In other words, it's possible to replace photosynthetic mechanisms of plants with our own electronics. Such electronics can gather light from bright areas of a planet back to the plant, making it survive in the dark, creating this new form of astrobiological possibility – and living plants in dark areas of such planets.”
Sareen concedes that we're probably a few centuries away from cultivating plants on the dark side of colonized planets, but that's the fun of thinking big. Meanwhile, we could keep busy with the ecosystems we already have. Sareen envisions a new twist on the Internet of Things in which we create an Internet of Living Things by selectively hybridizing certain intersections of nature and technology.
“I think we need a paradigm change in our thinking of sustainability and conservation,” he said. “If we start looking at capabilities already in the natural environment, we align ourselves with that development as opposed to being divergent from it.”
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Sareen calls this particularly twisty avenue of thinking convergent design, and he's got some specific ideas.
“In terms of climate change, there's a possibility of hybridizing plants with photoelectronic components,” he offered. “Plants are inefficient energy gatherers — roughly only converting 10 percent of the light to something useful.”
But, Sareen notes, we already have nanoscale electronic components that are smaller than the cells of plants.
“Consider that we create combinations of cells with these components that can gather more electrons, such that they have a higher electron activity inside the cells of plants,” he said. “This means they absorb more energy, become more efficient and in turn take in more CO2. And scale this up to the number of plants on the planet, and suddenly we're talking of climate change being balanced by such bioelectronic components.”
Sareen concedes that such far-future speculation is largely a thought experiment at this point. But with each new project, he finds that he's connecting more dots and banking more real-world results for a rainy day. Like a houseplant that can move itself toward a light source, for example.
“As a designer, I work with science and technology to bring out the possibilities for humans and nature,” he remarked. “Space-age far-future is where I thrive because it's so exciting — carrying a flashlight in dark but not knowing where to point it at.”