Pattie Maes develops a plant-robot hybrid and other news from the TED community

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As the year comes to a close, the TED community is busy as ever. Below, a few highlights.

Plant-robot hybrids are here. At the MIT Media Lab, researchers Pattie Maes and Harpreet Sareen have developed a new kind of “cybernetic lifeform”: a cyborg plant called Elowan that marries organic and digital technologies. Elowan’s robotic half tracks natural electronic pulses from its plant half that respond to light and other stimuli, and uses these signals to drive it toward light sources. Described as “a plant in direct dialogue with a machine,” Elowan illustrates a future where the organic and the machine work together more closely than ever. The methodology and testing behind Elowan is further explained in this video published by Sareen. (Watch Maes’ TED Talk.)

A night of philosophy and ideas. In January, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will join Judith Revel and Marquis Revlon at The Night of Ideas, a global philosophy and art festival hosted by Institut Français. Founded in France, the festival has expanded globally and will produce “marathon” events in five US cities next year, which will be free and open to the public. The 2019 theme is “Facing Our Time,” which will focus on technological, social and environment advances. The festival offers space for attendees to “celebrate the stream of ideas between countries, cultures, topics and generations.”  (Watch Adichie’s TED Talk.)

Love is not a permanent state of enthusiasm. In a new profile by The New Yorker, psychotherapist Esther Perel discusses how she helps couples through the hard work of sustaining romantic relationships. The interview was conducted in front of a live audience at the New Yorker Festival in October. Perel played clips from her podcast “Where Should We Begin?” and offered audience members eye masks to better focus on the voices and stories of the couples she worked with. When asked to define love, Perel says, “It’s a verb. That’s the first thing. It’s an active engagement with all kinds of feelings—positive ones and primitive ones and loathsome ones.” (Watch Perel’s TED Talk.)

A more mindful New Year health challenge. Headspace, the mindfulness app founded by Andy Puddicombe, is collaborating with fitness company Barre3 on a January health challenge that they hope will help participants kick-start their New Year. The challenge is designed to help participants center themselves and seek strength from within. In a statement, Barre3 said, “We all deserve to feel at home in our bodies, just as they are in this moment, and this month of daily guided movement and mindfulness will help us do that.” (Watch Puddicombe’s TED Talk.)

Reengineering “spy” viruses to fight disease. Biologist Bonnie Bassler and Princeton graduate student Justin Silpe have discovered that some viruses can listen in on “conversations” that bacteria are having in a host body — and use that to formulate an attack. At their lab at Princeton University, Bassler and Silpe are working to reengineer these viruses to specifically target bacterial diseases like cholera and salmonella. “These are inanimate, non-living viruses… There’s something beautiful about how ancient communication is,” said Bassler. (Watch Bassler’s TED Talk.)

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