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Computation's New Leaf

Plants may be calculating creatures

To most people, the word computer conjures up an image of a PC sitting on a desktop. According to a new study, however, complex computations may also be underway in another bit of office equipment: the potted plant that brightens up the windowsill. Plants may perform what scientists call distributed emergent computation. Unlike traditional computation, in which a central processing unit carries out programs, distributed emergent computation lacks a central controller. Instead, large numbers of simple units interact with each other to achieve complex, large-scale computations.

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