Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed artificial intelligence (AI) achieve amazing things. From being able to accurately depict multiple objects in a single image to defeating us humans in some of the most mentally grueling challenges, like Go and Jeopardy, AI has proven itself to be on the cusp of greatness. Riding on top of this wave, AI has now taken one more step: helping satellites become aware of volcanic eruptions before any human even knows about it!
In late January, Ethiopia’s Erta Ale volcano began developing a new fissure. In response, volcanologists sent out requests to NASA to use their Earth Observing-1 satellite to snap photos of the event. The only problem is that the satellite had apparently already snapped some photos. How did it know to do this before the professional humans? Because the EO-1’s AI called Autonomous Sciencecraft Experiment (ASE) found out first and alerted the satellite.
Whenever an event, like a volcanic eruption, takes place, it normally takes a ground team weeks to study the event and inform researchers. For the ASE, however, it immediately alerts the satellites operating on its network and then notifies researchers no more than 90 minutes after detection. Once the ASE became aware of new fissure from Erta Ale, it then ordered the satellite to begin mapping active lava flow, monitor methane leaks, and keep an eye out for any nearby reforestation efforts.
Although NASA plans on shutting down the EO-1 and ASE by the end of the month, the 12 years of assistance and accomplishments made from them will never go unnoticed. In the near future, artificial intelligence will be harnessed for various other satellite-based projects. As AI continues advancing, its ability to observe, analyze, and provide responses to certain geological events will go on unmatched.
Before any human down on Earth becomes aware, AI will be there to alert us ahead of time when volcanos are about to erupt; when hurricanes are about to form; when certain crops are at risk of being contaminated; etc. The Earth will have a “guardian angel,” per se, by its side, operating 24/7 to ensure its overall protection. With its assistance, we humans will be better prepared for whatever nature throws at us.
“Artificial intelligence onboard NASA’s Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) spacecraft assisted in imaging an eruption at Erta’Ale volcano, Ethiopia, from an altitude of 438 miles (705 kilometers). The observation was scheduled autonomously via the Volcano Sensor Web, which was alerted to this new activity by data from another spacecraft.”
Thirty to fifty years from now, not only will artificial intelligence alert of us certain dangerous events occurring on Earth, but will take steps to effectively prevent the event from ever occurring in the first place. Under a globalized network, AI will monitor our forests, oceans, known volcanoes, etc. and will maintain constant communication with various organizations and devices in charge of those areas. Whenever signs begin showing for a certain activity, the AI will take the necessary measures in alleviating whatever might be causing it, if unable to completely mitigate it beforehand.
These types of AI will also be crucial for future planet colonization and terraforming efforts. To ensure the overall safety of the colonists, we’ll need to maintain constant monitoring of the planets in question, from weather patterns to atmospheric conditions. If anything were to occur which appears unusual, the AI will know and immediately alert the colonists to take preparations.
Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/EO-1 Mission/GSFC/Ashley Davies