How NASA's A.I. moonshots idea could help your enterprise

Apr 26, 2017 | 1266 Views

Every few weeks, a group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., finds an empty conference room where the participants sit down to talk about how they can use artificial intelligence to make what might seem like crazy ideas a reality.

This is the JPL's informal A.I. moonshots group.

The group isn't talking about the moon, but is taking ideas that might seem like science fiction and figuring out how to use artificial intelligence to make them work.

These A.I. experts are focused on efforts such as sending small submarines to search for life beneath the oceans of one of Jupiter's moons and flying an autonomous spacecraft on a 100-year trip to another star system.

This same idea of a group focused on A.I. moonshots could also put big ideas into play for the enterprise.

"We ask ourselves what can have a huge impact on humanity, that this might be considered the big legacy of A.I.," said Steve Chien, head of the A.I. group at the JPL. "And I would say that any organization that wants to exist in the long term, that wants to aim big, that is forward-looking, could benefit from this kind of group. I think some of the employees at a large company need to be coming up with crazy ideas, doing strategic thinking and outlining a vision."

Chien, is a senior research scientist and technical group supervisor at the JPL's A.I. group, where he has worked for 27 years. Six months ago, he pulled out a core group of six to eight regulars of the JPL's artificial intelligence team. They brainstorm ideas over lunch and often are given homework problems, like how to best set up an antenna on an asteroid.

The A.I. moonshot group's goal is to come up with far-reaching, envelope-pushing goals that many would dismiss for being too fantastical. They look at how A.I. can be used to support space exploration and enable spacecraft to travel farther from Earth. They also think about ways to perform more tasks with little or no human control.

"A.I. is increasingly important with every mission because the technology is becoming more accepted and more and more capable," Chien told Computerworld. "I wouldn't say all or even most missions will use A.I., but there are missions where A.I. is a natural fit."

Some of the ideas the moonshots group is working on include advanced smarts for the 2020 Mars rover that will enable the rover to drive farther and faster on its own. The  group is also looking for ways that spacecraft could travel through the solar system by catching rides on passing comets.

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Source: Computerworld