China scientists carry out ‘rule-breaking’ AI experiment in space

By Stephen Chen,
Published by scmp, 15 April 2023

  • Researchers from Wuhan University say they gave the technology full control of a satellite and set it free for 24 hours
  • The artificial intelligence machine picked a few places and ordered the small near-Earth orbiter to take a closer look

Chinese researchers say an artificial intelligence machine was given temporary full control of a satellite in near-Earth orbit, in a landmark experiment to test the technology’s behaviour in space.

For 24 hours the Qimingxing 1, a small Earth observation satellite, was directed by a ground-based AI, without any human order, assignment or intervention, according to a paper published in the journal Geomatics and Information Science of Wuhan University.

The research team, led by Wang Mi from the university’s State Key Laboratory of Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing, said the aim of the experiment was to see what the AI would do of its own accord.

The scientists said the AI picked a few places on Earth and ordered the Qimingxing 1 to take a closer look. No explanation was given for why the technology may have selected the locations.

One targeted area was Patna, an ancient city by the Ganges River in northeast India, which is also home to the Bihar Regiment – the Indian Army unit that met China’s military in a deadly encounter in the Galwan Valley in the disputed border region in 2020.

Osaka, one of Japan’s busiest ports which occasionally hosts US Navy vessels operating in the Pacific, also ranked highly in the AI’s list of interests.

“This approach breaks the existing rules in mission planning,” said Wang and his colleagues in their paper published on April 3.

Until now, most satellites have needed specific orders or assignments before taking action. An assignment can be prompted by unexpected events – such as war or an earthquake – or a satellite can be scheduled to make long-term observations of particular targets.

While AI technology has been increasingly used in space missions – including for image recognition, drawing flight paths and collision avoidance – it has not been given control of a satellite, resulting in a waste of time and resources, according to the team.

See: Original Article