Scientists at the University of Chicago’s Human-Computer Integration Lab want to change our relationships with electronic devices. To that end, they conducted an experiment involving a living heart-monitor-equipped smartwatch that stops working when not taken care of properly.
The way the device works is simple. Instead of a physical wire that delivers power to the heart rate monitor, it uses polycephalum slime mold to provide electricity. The slime grows out of the left end of a transparent tube into the right end when adequately nourished. If the user doesn’t feed the slime twice a day, it retreats through the tube, electricity isn’t delivered to the heart rate monitor, and it stops working.
However, the slime doesn’t die for good. It just goes dormant. When regular care is resumed, it grows back, and power to the heart rate monitor is restored.
The University of Chicago scientists tested the device with five women, all around 30 years old. Each woman wore the device from nine to 14 hours per day, or long enough to nourish the slime to the point where the heart rate monitor began functioning. Their findings showed that the subjects developed a bond with the device and viewed it as a living organism. Some subjects also found it challenging to transition to the “neglect” stage of the test, where they needed to cease feeding the slime so it would break the heart monitor.
The practical applications of incorporating living organisms aren’t clear from the research paper. However, it is clear that when people view a device as alive, they tend to take better care of it because they feel a sense of responsibility toward it.