The Atlantic

The Mars Robot Making Decisions on Its Own

Thanks to artificial-intelligence software, the Curiosity rover can target rocks without human input.
Source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

In 2012, the Curiosity rover began its slow trek across the surface of Mars, listening for commands from Earth about where to go, what to photograph, which rocks to inspect. Then last year, something interesting happened: Curiosity started making decisions on its own.

In May last year, engineers back at NASA installed artificial-intelligence software on the rover’s main flight computer that allowed it to recognize inspection-worthy features on the Martian surface and correct the aim of its rock-zapping lasers. The humans behind the Curiosity mission are still calling the shots in most of the rover’s activities. But the software allows the rover to actively contribute to scientific observations without much human input, making the leap from automation to autonomy.

In other words, the software

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