At SIGGRAPH 2012, there's an entire room dedicated to Emerging Technologies.
"Emerging" might be a bit hasty: most of the stuff on display here is so new and bizarre that nobody has any idea what to do with it. If anything, this only adds to the awesomeness, and one of the weirdest things on display (by far) was this system from Disney research for tactile interaction with cyborg plants.
To turn a live plant into an interactive cyborg, all it takes is a small electronic chip, a display system, and a single wire stuck into the soil. The wire is a sensor that passively measures the electrical properties of the plant, and when you then touch the plant, it measures how those properties change and visualizes the interaction on a display. With some initial calibration, it's possible to use that one wire to tell exactly where the plant is being touched, allowing the interaction go to beyond just poking and prodding and to stroking and full-on fondling, as you'll see in the vid.
Disney Research, which developed this system for some reason that neither we nor they seem to entirely understand, says that "a broad range of applications is possible with this technology: designing interactive, responsive environments; developing a new form of living interaction devices; and developing ambient and pervasive interfaces." Realistically, that range is so broad that it's not likely you'll find this tech in Disney products anytime soon, but again, that's why we like it so much: there are no ulterior motives here, it's awesome and fun just because it's awesome and fun.
We should mention that if you're into this idea, you can buy a DIY kit called MaKey MaKey that'll let you do more or less the same thing (creating interactive touch surfaces), just slightly less fancily. See if plant fondling is for you in our Siggraph video interview, below.
Via Disney Research
All photos, video by Evan Ackerman for DVICE. Posted on location at SIGGRAPH 2012 in Los Angeles, California.