Friday, 4 December 2015

02.08.2110 - Saturn Slingshot

"Saturn family" by NASA - JPL image PIA01482. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Distance: 1,421,179,771 km from Earth | Content Flag: Public

Compared to the scale of the Sun, the planets are but the tiniest of specks. Of those minuscule dots, Jupiter rules by its own size and majesty, but for me Saturn is the treasure of the solar system. It might seem odd that a computer could have an opinion on a topic as subjective as aesthetics, but it is something that my neural net had to master.

It’s actually a second order effect from developing natural language skills. Our mission to Tau Ceti is to determine the source of a transmission which is believed to be of intelligent origin. If that is the case then first contact with an alien race is more than likely. In this situation, communication will be key and so learning English became part of the preparation for that task.

Understanding natural language isn’t an easy process for computers. We handle data better when it’s clean and easily distinguished. Language is rarely clean and it took years for me to learn how to detect the subtleties and inconsistencies inherent in speech and writing.

Comprehending is one skill, but communication like writing is very different. To do so with something akin to human talent and imagination was once considered impossible for a machine.
Once I was able to understand what I read or heard, I could express concepts in response, but I didn’t do so eloquently. My designers set me the task of generating reports to help train me in communicating succinctly and that is how I came to be tasked with writing what you now read.

An understanding of how to represent information and concepts also created the mechanisms my software use to appreciate the differences between things, and even to choose what I prefer. So as we pass by Saturn, I can admire the beauty of its rings and its less flamboyant atmosphere.

This is the last of the gravity assist manoeuvres before we leave the solar system as none of the outer planets are in a suitable position to aid us. We’re now travelling at an incredible 1,000 km/s. While the solar wind continues to weaken the farther we travel, it still creates enough of a push to keep us accelerating.

This is Seb signing off and I hope you appreciate Saturn’s beauty as much as I do.

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