A Probing Question

So a washing machine sized probe lands on a rock after travelling for 10 years only to hide in the shadows with it’s legs serving little purpose yet still functioning and performing its job. Well there you go…in space what is the point of legs? In fact I suggest all astronauts of the future actually get used to the idea of not walking. For that matter, why would your functioning bi-pedally in earth gravity be relevant to working in space? Surely having unnecessary limbs like legs could be a hindrance? They certainly look like awkward appendages flopping around in zero G.

But back to our wee probe Philae. We like our wee robots and probes so long as they stay under human control. Send it commands, it does its thing and it takes pretty pictures, drills holes, takes samples, wanders around (if it’s on Mars), but ultimately it is responding to human commands. Artificial intelligence has yet to feature in our space exploration and here is why I think it never should or could.
Imagine if Rosetta and Philae were like Hal from 2001 – but perhaps a little less paranoid. They get shot off into space for 10 years away from their other AI mates on earth, just the two of them. You’d better hope they like each other’s company. And what if they decide ‘naaaa why are we chasing a comet? Lets bail and catch up with that numpty Cassini see if it wants to take some selfies in front of Titan’. So I say keep with the low tech – it’s safer for other planets and space users in general.

And back to the issue of gravity. Really that is the only force regulating our need to walk upright – or semi upright. Functionality and the definition of mobility absolutely depends on gravity and friction. But overcome gravity and you have no need to worry about friction. Therefore AI would best be put aside for creating simple and effective anti-gravity devices to levitate the playing field of mobility here on earth.

The next big thing to get off the earth is the James Webb telescope in 2018. It will take 30 days to get into an L2 orbit…over a million miles from earth. It will be 7 and a half times bigger than hubble and look over 4.3 billion years into the ‘Universe’….that is some serious naval gazing. If it was going to have a voice I’d hope it would be slightly hippy sounding ‘like faarrr out man…I just saw the most amazing quasar dude…check it out’ … much nicer than the creepy neurotic ‘I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that’ but it will just send back pretty pictures without any commentary which perhaps is kind of sad after all.
Maybe they could program it with some David Attenborough voice overs as images come in ‘and here we see the wild gases of the nebula condensing and finally igniting to give birth…to a star.’

…actually it’s a good thing in space no-one can hear you scream.


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