NASA, SETI seek to harness AI tools

Symposium gathers experts to assist space exploration

Starting next week, NASA Ames and the SETI Institute will be launching a computer hackathon unlike any other.

Dozens of computer scientists and researchers from across the globe will gather in Mountain View for a four-week intensive course designed to find ways to apply machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) toward space exploration.

This program, called the NASA Frontier Development Lab (FDL), is a public-private partnership to collaborate by using the latest computer technology for solving the most vexing data challenges of space exploration. AI researchers from Google, IBM, Intel, Nvidia and other powerhouse companies will be partnering with scientists from NASA, SETI and academia.

This will be the third year the FDL has brought together these research teams. This year's workshop will be the most expansive and sophisticated to date, said SETI spokeswoman Rebecca McDonald. She described the last two years as pilots to test out how the collaboration would work.

The research teams will apply machine-learning toward four main research areas: astrobiology, space resources, exoplanets and space weather. On each of these topics, researchers have already heavily relied on computers to crunch through the reams of data. For example, computers were used in the famous Kepler program to sort through data sent back from the space observatory, which led to the discovery of more than 1,000 exoplanets -- worlds orbiting stars outside our solar system.

Each of the topics being pursued by the NASA FDL features an overabundance of data. This makes it difficult to interpret, but an excellent project for the developing field of machine learning analysis.

"As we get better at collecting information, human beings just can't process the amount of data that we're gathering," McDonald said. "Space technology is zooming ahead of our ability to realize that data in a meaningful way."

The results of the 2018 FDL workshop will be revealed on August 16 at Intel's Santa Clara headquarters.

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