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They’re making a real HAL 9000, and it’s called CASE – TechCrunch

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Don’t panic! Life imitates art, to be sure, but hopefully the researchers in charge of the Cognitive Architecture for Space Exploration, or CASE, have taken the right lessons from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and their AI won’t kill us all and/or expose us to alien artifacts so we enter a state of cosmic nirvana. (I think that’s what happened.)

CASE is primarily the work of Pete Bonasso, who has been working in AI and robotics for decades — since well before the current vogue of virtual assistants and natural language processing. It’s easy to forget these days that research in this area goes back to the middle of the century, with a boom in the ’80s and ’90s as computing and robotics began to proliferate.

The question is how to intelligently monitor and administrate a complicated environment like that of a space station, crewed spaceship, or a colony on the surface of the Moon or Mars. A simple question with an answer that has been evolving for decades; the International Space Station (which just turned 20) has complex systems governing it and has grown more complex over time — but it’s far from the HAL 9000 that we all think of, and which inspired Bonasso to begin with.

“When people ask me what I am working on, the easiest thing to say is, ‘I am building HAL 9000,’ ” he wrote in a piece published today in the journal Science Robotics. Currently that work is being done under the auspices of TRAC Lab, a research outfit in Houston.

One of the many challenges of this project is marrying the various layers of awareness and activity together. It may be, for example, that a robot arm needs to move something on the outside the habitat. Meanwhile someone may also want to initiate a video call with another part of the colony. There’s no reason for one single system to encompass command and control methods for robotics and a VOIP stack — yet at some point these responsibilities should be known and understood by some overarching agent.

CASE, therefore, isn’t some kind of mega-intelligent know-it-all AI, but an architecture for organizing systems and agents that is itself an intelligent agent. As Bonasso describes in his piece, and as is documented more thoroughly elsewhere, CASE is composed of several “layers” that govern control, routine activities, and planning. A voice interaction system translates human-language queries or commands into tasks those layers can carry out. But it’s the “ontology” system that’s the most important.

Any AI expected to manage a spaceship or colony has to have an intuitive understanding of the people, objects, and processes that make it up. At a basic level, for instance, that might mean knowing that if there’s no one in a room, the lights can turn off to save power but it can’t be depressurized. Or if someone moves a rover from its bay to park it by a solar panel, the AI has to understand that it’s gone, how to describe where it is, and how to plan around its absence.

This type of common sense logic is deceptively difficult and is one of the major problems being tackled in AI today. We have years to learn cause and effect, to gather and put together visual clues to create a map of the world, and so on — for robots and AI, it has to be created from scratch (and they’re not good at improvising). But CASE is working on fitting the pieces together.

Screen showing another ontology system from TRAC Labs, PRONTOE.

“For example,” Bonasso writes, “the user could say, ‘Send the rover to the vehicle bay,’ and CASE would respond, ‘There are two rovers. Rover1 is charging a battery. Shall I send Rover2?’ Alas, if you say, ‘Open the pod bay doors, CASE’ (assuming there are pod bay doors in the habitat), unlike HAL, it will respond, ‘Certainly, Dave,’ because we have no plans to program paranoia into the system.”

I’m not sure why he had to write “alas” — our love of cinema is exceeded by our will to live, surely.

That won’t be a problem for some time to come, of course — CASE is still very much a work in progress.

“We have demonstrated it to manage a simulated base for about 4 hours, but much needs to be done for it to run an actual base,” Bonasso writes. “We are working with what NASA calls analogs, places where humans get together and pretend they are living on a distant planet or the moon. We hope to slowly, piece by piece, work CASE into one or more analogs to determine its value for future space expeditions.”

I’ve asked Bonasso for some more details and will update this post if I hear back.

Whether a CASE- or HAL-like AI will ever be in charge of a base is almost not a question any more — in a way it’s the only reasonable way to manage what will certainly be an immensely complex system of systems. But for obvious reasons it needs to be developed from scratch with an emphasis on safety, reliability… and sanity.

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Hubble Snaps Stunning Pictures Of Colliding Galaxies

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In its latest exploratory hunt covering the Arp-Madore territory, the Hubble telescope found something remarkable in the Arp-Madore 417-391 collision event. What is truly noteworthy is the intensity of the galactic interaction and the strong gravitational forces at play here. The pair of galaxies have contorted each other, a forming a ring-like structure, while their cores sit side by side. Personally, I think the cosmic duo looks more like a pair of wireless over-the-ear headphones like Sony’s acclaimed WH-1000 XM4 cans.

The formation of ring-like structures at a galactic scale, especially in the events of merger between two galaxies, is quite rare. According to estimates, there are only a few hundred documented in Earth’s cosmic neighborhood. A ring formation at such a massive scale is nothing short of a chance event, because the interacting galaxies have to collide at just the right angle and orientation to form such a structure (via LiveScience).

The ring’s outline is usually made up of young blue stars, serving somewhat like an elongated genesis chamber of stars. However, rings generated from galactic collisions are rather short-lived (on a cosmic time scale, that is), and usually lose their distinct structure a few hundred million years.

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Today’s Wordle Answer #526 – November 27, 2022 Solution And Hints

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The solution to today’s Wordle puzzle ( #526 – November 27, 2022) is “happy.” Its most popular meaning is to be glad or pleased, but the root word “hap” means chance or fortune, and that’s why the word “happy” is also used to mean lucky, fortunate or providential circumstances or unforeseen success (via Merriam-Webster).

We solved the puzzle in four tries today — the first two guesses, ounce and plait, were an attempt to eliminate all the vowels early on, which is our preferred Wordle-solving strategy. Those two whittled down the possible answers from 383 to just eight, and the third guess, debug, reduced that further to three. The word happy was our lucky fourth guess, and what made us even happier is that it took WordleBot the same number of tries to solve the puzzle. We hope you do it even faster, and if you’re looking for more puzzles to try your hand at, check out these other games like Wordle. 

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Orion Capsule Breaks Record Of Farthest Spacecraft Traveled From Earth

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“It just so happened that with that really large orbit, high altitude above the moon, we were able to pass the Apollo 13 record,” Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle integration manager at NASA, said of the Orion’s record-breaking journey. On Monday, Nov. 28, Orion will reach a peak distance of 268,553 miles before the orbital manoeuvring system engine kicks in and propels it toward another close flyby with the Moon in the first week of December. Six days later, the vehicle is expected to return home.

According to NASA, the Orion is “built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before.” The Orion capsule has been co-engineered with Lockheed Martin, and it is touted to be the only vehicle capable of manned deep space mission and returning back to Earth at high speed from targets such as the Moon and beyond. With the Artemis project, NASA is actually aiming for the first crewed visit to the Mars, as well.

Capable of carrying four crew members, the capsule employs a total of 355,056 parts and can support missions lasting up to 21 days in its current state (via NASA). The capsule has systems for monitoring and maintaining aspects like humidity, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and radiation shielding, among other vital elements. Interestingly, the Orion’s base also features the world’s largest ablative heat shield that measures 16.5-feet in diameter and will protect the vehicle when it makes high-speed entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

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