NASA's Self-Taught Satellite

The Indonesian volcano Talang on the island of Sumatra had been dormant for centuries when, in April 2005, it suddenly rumbled to life. A plume of smoke rose 1000 meters high and nearby villages were covered in ash. Fearing a major eruption, local authorities began evacuating 40,000 people. UN officials, meanwhile, issued a call for help: Volcanologists should begin monitoring Talang at once.

Little did they know, high above Earth, a small satellite was already watching the volcano. No one told it to. EO-1 (short for Earth Observing 1) noticed the warning signs and started monitoring Talang on its own. Indeed, by the time many volcanologists were reading their emails from the UN, "EO-1 already had data," says Steve Chien, leader of JPL's Artificial Intelligence Group.

EO-1 is a new breed of satellite that can think for itself. "We programmed it to notice things that change (like the plume of a volcano) and take appropriate action," Chien explains. EO-1 can re-organize its own priorities to study volcanic eruptions, flash-floods, forest fires, disintegrating sea-ice—in short, anything unexpected.

Is this real intelligence? "Absolutely," he says. EO-1 passes the basic test: "If you put the system in a box and look at it from the outside, without knowing how the decisions are made, would you say the system is intelligent?" Chien thinks so.

And now the intelligence is growing. "We're teaching EO-1 to use sensors on other satellites." Examples: Terra and Aqua, two NASA satellites which fly over every part of Earth twice a day. Each has a sensor onboard named MODIS. It's an infrared spectrometer able to sense heat from forest fires and volcanoes—just the sort of thing EO-1 likes to study. "We make MODIS data available to EO-1," says Chien, "so when Terra or Aqua see something interesting, EO-1 can respond."

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News source: NASA

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22 Comments

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Classic example of the maker making exagerated to claims to get 15 minutes of fame.

True, I don't know exactly how that sattelite was programmed, but from what that article reports, it's not that advanced to begin with.

- If during it's normal scans, data comes up that matches a series of pre-programed patterns like "volcanic eruptions, flash-floods, forest fires, disintegrating sea-ice" (or maybe anything that doesn't match a series of pre-programmed know patterns), then inspect that area and collect more detailed information using it's sensors on a higher resolution setting.

And to those guys saying "oh yeah, define intelligence".
Well, it's not easy, but it's generaly accepted that humans are intelligent. After a couple million years eating roots we came up with fire and were able to use it to out benefit without nobody programming us to rub 2 sticks together (or so we believe :p).

If that satelite is able to start a fire in the next couple million years, i'll give it the benefit of the doubt. ;p

PID controllers controlling the gain of PID controllers controlling the gains of PID controllers controlled by a parrot. Its really a classic 4th order design.

We programmed it to notice things that change (like the plume of a volcano) and take appropriate action

What does they mean by "appropriate"?
If it sees USA invaiding another country, what will it do? Will it help USA? Or will it send the unlimited ray works?
Does it have "intelligence" of Bush?

Yeah it wasnt 'aware' or 'intelligent' it was just following its procedure that tells it to do something when a specific, or series of events occours

and they are not teaching, i mean when i install software on my computer im not 'teaching' it how to do those specific tasks, it is just running code!

Now if this satellite was not initially programmed to notice changes, such as the plume, and it did so by itself, THAT would be intelligence

Define intelligence.

Look at a human brain. What is it but a complex system of constantly changing pathways that respond to external stimuli in a way predetermined by its current configuration?

Wouldn't, at some point, sufficiently complex procedures be considered 'intelligence'?

Wow didnt know they had the technology to do this, amazing! Shows what they have that we dont know about!

"We programmed it to notice things that change (like the plume of a volcano) and take appropriate action," Chien explains.


it's been progammed in advance to respond to this thing, so it's not really new tech, just it's been pre-implemented.

It hasn't been programmed to respond directly to this, just things that are different or unexpected. and then monitor them.