I have the cover story over at h+ magazine today, about the new artificial intelligence upgrades to the space program. (Jet Propulsion Labs has upgraded the Mars rover with artificial intelligence firmware… could intelligent AI nanoclouds be far off?) Read on at the link below for the rest of my reporting live from NASA’s labs.
Though we may not have found intelligent life on Mars, NASA has just beamed up its own.
As announced at the end of March, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories has upgraded the Opportunity rover (already stationed on Mars) with artificial intelligence firmware, code-named AEGIS. Short for Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, AEGIS allows the Opportunity to identify high-value photography targets — making its own decisions about which Martian rocks to photograph and send back to Earth. As the rover has limited downlink capacity, this is expected to greatly increase its productivity, allowing it to retrieve more data in fewer trips across Mars’ surface. AEGIS isn’t the first artificial intelligence application developed for space, or even at Jet Propulsion Labs — JPL has been in the game as far back as the Deep Space 1 craft in 1998.
I visited JPL on a recent rainy afternoon. Nestled in the mountains near Pasadena, California, the NASA campus dates to the 1940s, and was an early stalwart of the United States’ rocketry and space programs. Beyond security checkpoints, rows of polished, glass-and-steel buildings house the facility’s various projects — major foci at the moment are the Mars rovers and Reconnaissance orbiter, the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, and the Spitzer space telescope. Further up the hill is a simulated outdoor Martian landscape, with volcanic rocks resting in red sand. It’s an eerie thing to see through a gray LA fog.