Deep space exploration

How AI could be the key to deep space exploration

Deep space exploration presents many exciting opportunities, but current technology prevents humans from going beyond the moon’s orbit. What challenges do humans face in deep space exploration, how could AI solve this challenge, and what challenges would these AIs face?

What challenges do humans face when exploring deep space?

Even though I know Star Trek is science fiction, I hope the concept of faster-than-light travel becomes a reality. Of course, nothing can travel faster than light, but there are theories that can manipulate space-time to allow great distances to be traveled in a short time (wormholes and Alcubierre Drives). Nevertheless, until these dreams of alien drive systems come true, humanity must contend with the technology available to it for space exploration.

When it comes to deep space exploration, humanity faces a myriad of challenges that not only prevent humans from going beyond the moon’s orbit, but also make it difficult for systems robots and probes to conduct scientific research. Undoubtedly, the first challenge is that anything space-related is incredibly far away, and while humans can live long enough to traverse the solar system using traditional chemical engines, trying to reach even the nearest star would take thousands of years.

The second challenge humans face is that we are delicate creatures entirely dependent on our ecosystem to survive. This means that any long journey through the solar system would require large amounts of oxygen, food and water, and carrying that extra weight requires bigger rockets. Third, deep space is not as forgiving to living tissue as Earth is; as such, any ship carrying humans requires significant armor. In fact, giant planets such as Jupiter have such strong magnetic fields that they have bands of radiation that are deadly to all living things, and so anything of interest in those bands is effectively off limits.

To try to solve these problems, probes can be sent in place of humans who can experience greater g-forces, withstand radiation, and require no food or water. However, probes that stray too far from Earth can be difficult to communicate (i.e. they require a strong antenna with a direct line of sight). Additionally, the extreme distance between Earth and a space probe means that the time it takes for messages to arrive makes real-time operation impossible. So if anything interesting happens, it’s up to the probe to take pictures and read data.

How could AI solve the challenges of deep space probes?

Basically, the benefit that AI would bring to any deep space probe is the ability to operate without any human intervention, whether it’s orbit adjustment, power saving, or predicting potential issues. to hinder its mission. But above all, an AI capable of spotting topics of interest would be extremely powerful because it would allow probes to identify events that would capture the interest of humans.

For example, a probe flying over a moon of Saturn, for example, could be programmed to image the far side. What if the probe detects a meteor about to hit Saturn? When it comes to research, that’s much more important, and an AI-powered probe would be able to recognize that as interesting. So the AI ​​would flip the probe and observe the meteor impact instead. Once observed, it would then return to its original mission.

Additionally, the AI-powered probes could also be used for missions that extend far beyond the range of radio communications from Earth. Using current technology, miniature probes can be launched toward local star systems at relativistic speeds (acceleration over a long period of time) such as would occur in our lifetimes. Upon arrival, it would be the AI’s responsibility to observe the system, look for items of interest, and then find a way to retrieve the data.

What challenges does AI face in space exploration?

Although the idea of ​​AI in space probes sounds promising, there are many challenges ahead. One is that current AI systems are nowhere near advanced enough to understand what humans care about. A fun but good representation of this is found in the movie Planet 51, in which an intelligent probe lands on an alien world and, instead of acknowledging the obviously advanced civilization that drives vehicles, watches movies and eats out, more interested in unusual shapes. rocks.

Another challenge that AI presents is that the intelligence embedded in such probes must be repeatable and predictable. Even though AI technology has come an extraordinary path, such algorithms can still make trivial mistakes. For example, an error in an imaging sensor may be perceived as a bright flash of light, which may trick the system into thinking that something interesting has happened. Thus, any AI-powered probe would need multiple redundant systems to ensure that it can distinguish between sensor values ​​and identify those that may have failed.

Overall, AI-powered probes provide an option for humanity to explore the stars without having to be physically present, and the technology to send probes beyond the solar system already exists (although extremely tiny probes). But AI still has a long way to go before it can be fully entrusted with the full operation of a multimillion-dollar probe.