Will Artificial Intelligence Be The First To Find Alien Life? NASA Backs Plans For Small Robotic Explorers Who Could Scour The Universe
Cheyenne Macdonald seems to always have the coolest articles for the Daily Mail Online, and her June 22, 2017 article is no exception. In the not too distant future, it may be autonomous systems, empowered by artificial intelligence (AI) — think Star Wars and R2D2 and CP3O, will be ‘going where no man has gone before,’ and to seek out new life. Ms. Macdonald writes that in the future, “humans in orbit could operate robotic systems down at the surface by relying on telepresence, enabling virtual exploration — and some even say, artificially intelligent probes could learn to carry out missions almost entirely on their own.”
“Scientists working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab,” are working on autonomous AI systems that would be able to interact with each other, “mostly without human intervention, adapt to all types of environments,” and adjust their operational ‘game plan,’ as the circumstances dictate, Ms. Macdonald wrote.
As we all know, the deeper you go into space, the longer it takes for the spacecraft or probe to receive a transmission, as well as for those of us here on Earth to receive updates from these same spacecraft and/or probes/drones.– sometimes days, months, and years. “Between the Moon and the Earth, for example,” Ms. Macdonald wrote, “light takes 1.3 seconds to travel each way — speeds that are much slower than human reaction time.” “And,’ she adds, “as scientists look toward further targets, it could take up to 40 minutes to transmit signals [instructions].”
Kip Hodges, Foundation Professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, is one of the authors of a newly published study in the journal, Science, in which these scientists argue that ‘exploration telepresence’ could be the key to future deep space missions in the search for extraterrestrial/intelligent life; and/or, other Earth-like planets that could support human life. Dr. Hodges and his co-authors, write that “by deploying astronauts to a planet’s orbit, such as Mars, humans could control the instruments [drones/autonomous systems] on the planet’s surface in real-time. And, this would allow them to essentially use a ‘robotic surrogate,’ [meaning the researchers could experience the surface environment virtually, through the eyes of a robot; and carry out this investigation [exploration] through this vessel,” [autonomous system] Ms. Macdonald wrote.
“Even though signals commanding observations and measurements take only minutes, or tens of minutes to reach Mars, from command –to data return, can take a day or more,” Dr. Hodges told Ms. Macdonald. “Telepresence means humans operating robotic systems from a distance close enough where the delay between human action and robotic response is a fraction of a second,” Dr. Hodges told Ms. Macdonald. “Exploration telepresence,’ is a reasonable compromise, until we are able to get humans on the surface,” of some distant, deep space world.
Using probes ,or drones to venture into deep space in search of intelligent life beyond Earth makes a lot of sense; but, a probe or drone isn’t going to be a satisfactory substitute for a human — for a long, long time to come. Of course, if you believe futurist Ray Kurzweil and others, mankind will merge with AI and machine — an event known as the Singularity — and then, many of the hazards of deep space travel with respect to the human body won;t be the issue/s they are now. And, depending on who you ask,humans will be able to merge with machines/AI in as little as another half century. That is probably too optimistic a timeline; but, the point is, we are likely to be able to overcome some of these deep space hurdles sooner than many realize or understand. Think ‘Data,’ on Star Trek.
Until the Singularity is reached, and/or, we are able to discover new, and novel ways for humans to travel into deep space, faster, and for long periods of time, then probes and autonomous systems are the second best option.
Finally, with the launch of the James Webb deep space telescope set for next year, 2018, things are about to heat up for astronomers and scientists here on Earth who are searching the cosmos for intelligent life elsewhere than Earth. Further out, the European Space Agency plans to launch a new, deep-space telescope known as Plato, around the 2026 time-frame. This state-of-the-art, deep space telescope will be sent 930,000 miles (1.5M kilometers) beyond Earth,” Ms. Shavili Best wrote in the June 21, 2017 edition of the Daily Mail Online.
So, some pretty exciting stuff, if you are curious about the universe, and whether or not we are all alone. What would Galileo think now. Would he be disappointed that 275 years after his death (Jan. 8, 1642), that we are where we are now? Or would he be excited as a first-time World Series participant, at the potential that deep space probes and deep space telescopes hold for as yet — eye-watering discoveries. Remember, if you aim at nothing, you will hit it. V/R, RCP